Metro Morning

Homeless mindset hard to shake for Toronto man

Winter is coming. For the thousands of Torontonians without places to live, this is an anxious time of year, a time to worry about how they'll survive another winter.

This will be Carl Tebo's first winter spent indoors in 10 years

For homeless people, this is the time of year they are thinking about how they will survive another winter. Matt Galloway spoke with Carl Tebo, who for the first time in many years, does not have to face winter outside. 6:30

Winter is coming. For the thousands of Torontonians without places to live, this is an anxious time of year, a time to worry about how they'll survive another winter.

Carl Tebo doesn't have to worry about that anymore, after living years with no fixed address, he recently moved into a home. Even still, he finds himself thinking about the cold, seemingly unable to shake a "homeless" mindset.

Even though it's the first winter in 10 years that Tebo doesn't have to sleep outside, he's bought himself a sub-zero sleeping bag anyway. 

"I'm still in that mode," he said. "I find myself trying to gather up sleeping bags, looking at my resources. I've got a sub-zero sleeping bag sitting in my room, even though I don't need it. It's like a reflex."

Those reflexes also still exist around food. 

"I have a plastic bag of sandwiches beside me right now even though I don't need them," he said. "In the winter, it takes a lot of food to keep your energy up. When you're on the street; you always have to be ready."

After settling in a place near Lawrence Avenue West and Weston Road, he's volunteering now at the Weston King Neighbourhood Centre, helping others who have no permanent place to go.

He remembers his time on the street, when he slept on a grate downtown.

He had an arrangement with the security guard at a nearby bank. The security guard would look out for him, as a debt of gratitude. 

"Once a woman dropped her deposit bag in a snow bank outside the door. I brought it into security — because it was the right thing to do," he said. "After that the staff brought me little gifts and the security guard always looked after me."

Tebo said he slept in Nathan Phillips Square, under the Gardiner Expressway at Spadina and Lakeshore and other precarious places around the city.

Felt like a 'death sentence'

Tebo's time on the street began after a marital breakdown in 2005.

"I had a farm and a rental business — nine properties — and an accounting firm. I also owned an ice cream store and a printing business near Windsor, where I grew up," he said. 

His bitter break-up, he said, resulted in him paying lawyers a healthy amount of his money and assets. As he described it, it went "spiralling out from there." Tebo started drinking, using drugs and then came complicating health problems.

"I had no faith in mankind," he said. "I suffered a lot of abuses at the hands of street-level predators."

He had housing on and off over the next 10 years after that. And now that he's found a one-room, subsidized apartment, he's confident he's already spent his last night on the sidewalk.

"This February, I got off the street," he said proudly. 

Tebo is on Ontario Disability Support Program now, receiving $1,050 a month, which almost all goes to rent.

He said volunteering at the Weston King Neigbhourhood Centre made the difference for him. They gave him cause to care about himself and others. 

Now he uses his accounting skills from his former life in business to help others who don't have a place to live. He helps them file their taxes.

"I'm just getting back to being able to see some opportunities again," he said. "It feels good to help other people, rather than being helped all the time."

"For a long time everything looked like a death sentence."

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