Day two (Thursday) of Canada’s national housing and homelessness conference – which has brought 600-plus advocates, academics, experts to Calgary – featured a powerful keynote from author Richard Wagamese. the opening keynote (see yesterday’s blog) from University of Toronto housing expert Dr. David Hulchanski gave a dynamic overview and Richard provided the street-level perspective.
He described his life on the streets, including 39 days that he spent in an Ontario community sleeping rough. The warmest and driest place was a nativity scene that was in place for the holiday season – Richard told of crawling under the straw and burrowing away from sight, gaining a bit of precious heat from the floodlights. He also told delegates that “concrete has a very special smell”, telling of the feel of cold concrete oin his cheek is something that will never be erased from his memory.
Richard’s time living without a home followed many of the familiar routes – including jail, rundown housing and shelters. Looking back, he says that his path to homelessness started with “post traumatic stress disorder” – disabling events in his childhood that triggered many other issues in his life.
Richard drew a standing ovation from the delegates when he told them not to be content with the growing trend towards “10-year plans” to end homelessness. “Why don’t you just do it right now,” he urged.