Toronto

Formerly homeless man helps others find housing

Two years ago Carl Tebo was homeless. Now, he delights in feeding other people who are on the financial edge.

A study lifted Carl Tebo out of homelessness. Now he's giving back.

Carl Tebo was homeless for years before a study by the Mental Health Commission of Canada helped get him on his feet. (David Donnelly/CBC)

There was a time when Carl Tebo didn't know where his next meal was coming from. Today, two years after getting housing, he delights in feeding other people who are on the edge financially.

"The drawer is full," Tebo announced opening his fridge. Sure enough, limes, potatoes, red and green peppers and apples - lots of apples - fill the drawer to the brim.

"I make a big apple crisp," Tebo said. "So I need lots of apples."

Tebo's journey into homelessness and addiction began 20 years ago. At his lowest point, he was living under the Gardiner Expressway near the Spadina Avenue ramp, panhandling on the Lakeshore to feed his cocaine addiction, and coughing uncontrollably.

Carl Tebo is now dedicated to helping others in need, using his apartment as a one-man shelter and food bank. (David Donnelly/CBC)
A street worker steered him to St. Michael's Hospital, which is how he was recruited for a study — the largest ever in Canada — to demonstrate the principles of a housing-first approach to homelessness, rather than the conventional approach of making treatment a condition for housing.

Life-changing study

"At Home/Chez Soi" —  part study, part demonstration project — housed a randomly selected group, on the condition that they cover a third of the monthly rent from their government cheques. A control group received addictions treatment but no support with housing.

The five-year, five-city project shows that housing first quickly ends homelessness.  Almost all the people who were housed also began asking for help with their addiction.

In the most severe cases, the cost of providing housing was roughly half as much as their previous visits to emergency wards and shelters.

In the two years since finding housing, Tebo has put three other homeless men up at his apartment. (David Donnelly/CBC)

For Tebo, it was life-changing. Today, he volunteers at a couple of community centres where most of the people who drop in also rely on local food banks.
 'I got lots of help too from strangers, helping me out, so I got to give back.'- Carl Tebo

His own apartment in a low-income tower on Weston Road is itself a one-man shelter and food bank.  

Over the two years since leaving the street, he's put three other homeless men up at his apartment, two of whom he's also helped to find housing — not to mention supplying apple crisp, bag lunches and meals to neighbours on a tight budget.

"I can't help it," says Tebo. "I got lots of help too from strangers, helping me out, so I've got to give back."

About the Author

Mary Wiens

Journalist/ Producer | Metro Morning

Mary Wiens is a veteran broadcaster and a regular on Metro Morning. Her wide-ranging beat includes stories that are sometimes tragic, often funny, occasionally profound and always human. Work that is often honoured with RTDNA awards (The Association of Electronic Journalists). One of her favourite places - Yonge Street. "It's the heart and soul of Toronto," says Wiens. "Toronto's Main Street!"