Written By Jennifer van Gennip
As part of our commitment to working in solidarity with our unhoused neighbours to change the narrative on homelessness, we are inviting people to share their own stories in their own words as guests on our blog. I was tempted to edit out some of Texas’s kind words about Redwood and about myself, but I’ve left them in to keep his message intact as he intended it. – Jennifer
The first time that I ever heard of “Redwood,” I was so surprised to learn that there truly is a place in the world with people that have such large and warm hearts. The type you only see in the movies. You hear about such people, but for some reason, no one ever seems to actually meet people like this, with this type of real love, people who truly care and have worry in their hearts and a desire to help others in need.
I’m now 46 years old and never thought these types of people were anything but storybook characters. To my astonishment, the people at Redwood, as well as the John Howard Society, are as close to real-life angels as you could come across while still alive.
I have personally been living on the street for just a little over three years now, and no one has provided more than a meal or a little bit of spare change. Don’t get me wrong, I am always truly grateful for any help that I do receive, but I had yet to come across anything more than that. There has been one exception, but this person wasn’t from an agency. She has also been living on the streets until just this month when she moved into Lucy’s Place. This person, known as Mamma Tee, gave my heart true hope, warmth, and compassion. She is a big part of why I am alive today – my guardian angel who has saved me in every way imaginable, and I wish I could let her know that and thank her.
Knowing Mamma Tee is also how I came to not only hear about Redwood but also meet the amazing people there. The first lovely person I was able to meet was Jennifer, who is the Director of Communication and Advocacy of Redwood Park Communities. Love is what she does best. She helps with never having any expectations in return because she is just GOOD. I have to say, if there were ten more of her, there would be no way of not noticing the impact on the world. If there were 100 more or even 1000, I am willing to bet that we would be the first province to eradicate homelessness entirely.
Unfortunately at this moment we only have one, but don’t get me wrong, she’s impacting our world.
When I first met Jennifer, it was roughly a year ago, and honestly, I would have never thought that our one tiny encounter would have been enough for her to remember me, but of course, she did. That memory she held onto actually made me feel like a person again. She even remembered what type of illness I have. Once we were reacquainted, she did give me a large reality check when she told me that I looked like I had aged ten years in the one year since we met and that my weight loss was as severe as any she had seen. These, of course, are two things I was already quite aware of, but I guess it was the straightforward candidness that made me more aware, and I realized that she cares enough to notice.
As I have mentioned, over the past three years of going through complete destitution, humiliation, and homelessness, I have been involved with numerous agencies. However, Redwood is a place where the people don’t just continuously remind you of the crappy situation you’re living in. They help remind you that you are still an actual person who matters just the same as everyone else. You are reminded again and again that you are a human being. No better or worse than anyone else.
Now, this might sound strange as I am writing about Redwood, but I feel horrible that other than knowing Jennifer and a few other wonderful people from Redwood, before starting to write this article, I had no clue about what Redwood actually does to help people. I went online and learned a lot! Something I was surprised about is just how many agencies they have been able to team up with to accomplish so much. For example, the partnership for places like Lucy’s Place. That is fantastic considering my own current situation, and I am desperately doing everything in my power to be able to get into Lucy’s Place myself.
The reason for my desperation is quite simple. A quick backstory on me is that I am 46 years old with four children and one grandson. I found out just a little over three years ago that I have osteosarcoma (bone cancer). When I was diagnosed, I was already at a late stage 3. So I immediately started chemotherapy, then went through a bone marrow transplant, and when neither helped, I went through radiation treatment. I quickly progressed to stage 4 and then was accepted into an experimental treatment program called immunotherapy. Unfortunately, instead of helping, it actually caused more damage. However, if I had never tried, it would have driven me crazy. But that’s the old saying – hindsight is 20/20. Now I have been doing what I do best, and that is fighting every step of the way.
I have been fighting one way or another for what feels like my entire life, and all I can say is that I am sick and tired of it. I feel like I am truly at the end of my rope, and now I’m dealing with something entirely new and unsettling. Fear.
Don’t get me wrong, I would be a liar if I said I have never been scared, but this is different. I am terrified to die. I had thought that I had hit the stage of acceptance until I suffered a stroke a few weeks ago. I honestly believed that was it. My time had come. But I’m still here, and I know now how far from acceptance I really am. However, the doctors at the hospital told me that if my body temperature drops below a certain point, then my heart will stop. So I am truly at the end, and Lucy’s Place is truly my last hope. If I don’t get off the street, this will be not only my first article for Redwood but my last. So I’m doing something else that is new and terrifying: putting my life in the hands of complete strangers.
I’m out of other options for treatment or curing my cancer. Of course, there is the option to give up completely, but I don’t have that in me, and I don’t want my kids to see that their dad is a quitter. Even though, for the most part, the people at Redwood, John Howard Society, and the Busby Centre are strangers, something tells me that I can honestly trust them, which is a huge thing for me. I feel as though these people care enough not to let me die freezing on the streets while I’m already dealing with such an awful illness.
However, I am running out of time. My body is telling me that if I don’t get inside out of this weather, I have weeks. So I guess what I’m saying is this: I put my life in the hands of some of the most amazing people. I truly hope and pray that these wonderful people can save my life. I’m trusting my gut that this will not be my end. However, if things go in the wrong direction, I don’t hold anyone responsible. You are all in my heart, and the work you do is inspiring. No matter my outcome, you have given me hope. Thank you.
I’ll leave you with this. My name is “Texas.” I would like to thank you for taking the time to get to know a little of my story. Whether this is the first of many or if this is my last post, please give this simple task a try: help someone. Anyone. Whether it is something as simple as spare change, something to eat, a blanket or even a kind word. Anything at all, and I promise you this, it will at least warm both of your hearts. And be inspired like I am by what Redwood and the other agencies are doing.
Thank you once again, and love from the bottom of my heart,
R. Doug “Texas” S., Barrie ON
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