Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Neat, well-spoken, intelligent, homeless

Former Siloam Mission resident defies too-common stereotype

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Kevin Charter is the new face of homelessness.

The 49-year-old Hamilton native is well-spoken, neatly dressed and has an easy sense of humour. He comes from a loving family, with a dad who spent 30 years as an office manager and a mom who stayed home to take care of four kids. Charter's parents weren't wealthy, but they were able to take their kids on trips and provide for their needs.

He didn't finish high school because Grade 11 English tripped him up, but he's clearly intelligent. He has worked for almost all of his adult life. Charter, who admits he likes to move around, came to Winnipeg in February. He has experience as a security guard and had a job offer here. When he arrived, the job had fallen through.

"Unfortunately, it backfired," Charter said Monday. "They found they couldn't put me on the payroll."

He previously lived here in 2009, working at both the Chamois Car Wash and Superstore. He likes our city. He's not afraid of hard work, he says. His wandering ways are his problem.

"I like change," he says with a laugh. "I like moving around. I was never able to settle down."

He was married for five years and looks sheepish when he says his ex-wife has sent divorce papers to five different addresses, all of them places he used to live. She knows where he is now.

Charter once spent a month in a Toronto shelter. "They didn't kick you out except when they sprayed for bedbugs."

This is Homelessness Awareness Week in Canada.

When he arrived here, Charter was collecting employment insurance disability benefits. He'd injured his back working as a "car jockey" for Chrysler. He was counting on the new job to get him off pogey. With no work in sight and no family here, Charter slipped into homelessness with frightening ease.

He heard about Siloam Mission and arrived with his belongings in hand.

"It was a bit frantic because I had to find a place right away. I learned to accept it pretty fast," he said. "It was a safe place. Everybody was welcoming me. There was no problem with the other residents."

The mission's third floor holds 110 beds. The bed frames are metal to prevent bedbugs from taking hold. The mattresses are covered in plastic. Guests keep their belonging in large Tupperware tubs away from the beds. The whole place is cleaned and bleached every morning. Except for a family room used in emergencies, there is no privacy on this clean, well-lit floor.

Mike Duerksen, Siloam's communications co-ordinator, says 40 per cent of their overnight guests are out the door early in the morning. They either have jobs or they head to temp agencies, hoping for a day's work. Everyone has to be out by 7:30 a.m. They can get breakfast at the mission's drop-in centre.

The funny thing is Charter never considered himself homeless. He was down on his luck, but he always had a roof over his head.

"I had to carry my stuff around with me," he concedes. "I didn't wander the streets. I either went to the library or I chatted with the other residents... I wasn't sleeping on a sidewalk. I wasn't sleeping under a bridge. I didn't have my own home but this (Siloam Mission) was my home."

In April, Charter moved into the Madison, an 87-room housing complex Siloam owns. He's got a small single room, shares a bathroom with 10 guys and gets three meals a day. His rent is about $620 a month. He's off EI and working for minimum wage as a shipper/receiver, part of Siloam's employment preparation program. The program, which insists participants be clean and sober, gives homeless people a chance to complete their education, learn job skills and regain their confidence.

Charter wants to get his high school diploma and study broadcasting. He doesn't know what kind of market there is for a 49-year-old novice, but that's his dream. He may have been homeless, but he's still a guy with ambitions and hope.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Awareness events

Events marking the remainder of Homelessness Awareness Week in Winnipeg:

Today:

11:30 a.m. Studio 631 Resource Centre at Red Rock Lodge, 611 Main St. Discover a place where the homeless community finds refuge, support and skill-building activities daily.

Noon. The Edge Gallery, next to Red Road Lodge. Presentation on what the real face of homelessness looks like and a discussion of the unfortunate circumstances that create and perpetuate homelessness.

Noon-1 p.m. University of Winnipeg Richardson College for the Environment Atrium, 599 Portage Ave. Panel discussion on ending homelessness; how housing first is changing lives. Hosted by the University of Winnipeg's Institute of Urban Studies.

Thursday:

Noon-2 p.m. The Asper Theatre for the Performing Arts, 300 Colony St. The At Home/Chez Soi Project on Homelessness invites the public to an interactive event to learn about being homeless in Winnipeg.

7 p.m.-overnight. 201 Portage Ave. Change for the Better CEO Sleepout. More than 50 CEOs and community leaders will sleep outside overnight to raise money for homeless employment programs and helping people off the streets.

Friday:

10:30 a.m. University of Manitoba, Drake Centre, Room 117. The Role of Place in Social Innovation: A Study of Places in Housing for the Hard-to-House.

1 p.m. University of Manitoba, Drake Centre, Room 117. Research Workshop on Economic Inequality and Business.

-- endhomelessnesswpg.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2012 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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