As It Happens

Veteran who tweeted his experience with homelessness gets new apartment

A veteran who has been homeless since Canada Day signed the lease on his new Toronto apartment Thursday.

'It's exciting and it's very surreal,' says Jordan Green, a.k.a. @homeless416

After six months of homelessness, Jordan Green, 48, secured a new apartment subsidized by Veterans Affairs Canada. (Submitted by Jordan Green )
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A veteran who has been homeless since Canada Day signed the lease on his new Toronto apartment Thursday.

"It's exciting and it's very surreal," Jordan Green, 48, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"Not really knowing where you'll be from day to day or night to night, to suddenly be presented with a piece of paper that says you have a home ... I'm tingling."

Green announced the good news on his Twitter account — @homeless416 — where he's been documenting his experience with homelessness and sleeping Toronto's overburdened shelters since September.

Green says he grew up in a financially stable, middle-class home, got a good education and worked for most of his adult life. 

Then life took a turn.

His father developed Alzheimer's, so he moved back in with his parents to help his mother take care of him. Soon after, his mother died. He put his father into a care facility, but then his dad died too. 

Green was between jobs and trying to start a business, he said, but found himself lacking the necessary motivation. In fact, he could barely drag himself out of bed most days.

"I know now I was falling into a deep depression," he said. "When you struggle getting up in the morning, you just, you can't do anything, right? And I eventually, just from not being able to pay my bills, I lost my place and I found myself homeless, ironically on Canada Day."

'I still feel ashamed about being homeless'

He says he started tweeting about his situation to combat the shame he felt. 

It was the start of the Jewish New Year, and his old friends from Toronto's Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood were texting him, asking why they hadn't seen him out walking his dog, Joey.

"I was missing my friends and I was still ashamed, but I was figuring if I take the brave step to maybe just start tweeting to strangers, then we'll see what happens," he said. 

"I still feel ashamed about being homeless, and it's hard for me to talk in public and use the word homeless to describe my situation, but that's what I do."

Green's dog Joey remained by his side as he lived in shelters and hotels. (Submitted by Jordan Green )

He used his new platform to describe what it's like to navigate the city's shelter system, rushing to arrive in time to snag a bed, sleeping in a large concrete room full of strangers on mats separated only by a few inches of floor space.

Some people, he said, were violent and threatening — men who had been "living on the streets forever and they've gotten used to fighting for whatever things they can get just to survive."

"For the first week, really, when I was in a homeless shelter I didn't sleep. I kind of slept with my eyes open because I was scared for my life," he said.

"To be suddenly thrust into, like, a war zone, but worse — at least in a war zone, you know kind of what to expect."

The good moments 

But there were bright moments too — such as the time shelter staff put on a full Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. 

"Usually, we get donations for food, so the the running joke in the shelter is, 'Is it chicken and rice, or rice and chicken?'" he said.

But on Thanksgiving, there was turkey, beef, stuffing, veggies, and best of all, soda. 

"You think a soda pop, you go to the convenience store and grab a Coca-Cola or some other brand of beverage, and it's something you do on a normal day. When you're homeless, you know, that's a luxury," he said.

"It was really, really sweet just to sit down and have a Thanksgiving meal at a homeless shelter of all things. It was just a really amazing thing. A lot of people were teary-eyed. I get a little choked up talking about it."

The decision to tweet, he says, is what ultimately led him on the path to securing housing again. 

"When you start tweeting about this stuff, people take an interest and I got tweets back from other people who are homeless, and from organizations that can help homeless people," he said. 

"It gave me the courage I needed to to talk to my friends again, which I'm really glad I did because ... for the most part, they were very receptive and helpful and doing the best thing that a friend really can do — just listen to me and help me share my story."

Why having a cellphone matters on the street 

Veterans Affairs Canada and the non-profit VETS Canada helped Green get out of the shelters and into a hotel, he said.

The Royal Canadian Legion, he said, helped him get on the list for subsidized housing for veterans, which is how he found his new apartment.

He's been diagnosed with depression and is now on medication — though he's still on what he says is a very long wait list to get the therapy he needs.

But he says he wouldn't have been able to do any of it without his smartphone. That's something he'd like people to remember when they pass judgment on homeless people who own phones or other items that might seem like luxuries they can't afford.

A phone means you can call 911 if you're in trouble, he said, or arrange job interviews, or look up services.

"I think it's ... really important for trying to get yourself out of that situation that you're in," he said. "I would never have found any of the resources that I used to get the place that I'm moving into now if I didn't have a cellphone."

His next step is to look for work — something he says will be easier now that he has a place to sleep and shower. 

"It really gives you some stability in life to have just a place to put all your stuff, to have a home base to live out of, to look for work and to re-establish yourself in the community and get back to your regular routine."

He says he's also planning for further in the future. 

"I want to be able to give back eventually and help all those organizations that helped me, because it really is remarkable."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Morgan Passi.