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The Park And The Homeless

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[Sept.2000] Mimo

The park is home to a few people without secure shelter, and most of these people know one another, help each other out, and also help out the park staff at times (one of them described himself and his friends as the "night shift," looking out for trouble). In the middle of July, one homeless person [Mimo] was given a city order banning him from the park, because he persisted in jamming the public toilets with cardboard, and occasionally exposed himself when he took sponge baths at the water fountain. Despite the order and repeated warnings, this man continues to come to the park and consequently the men's public toilet has been out of order for much of the summer. One person who is not in his right mind can paralyze the city's ability to properly service the park.

[May 2001] Mimo is back:

In the last two years, during warm weather, Mimo, the old man who always carries a box of cardboard, has done so much damage with his habit of plugging the men's toilets (with paper and pieces of cardboard) that they have often been locked, awaiting repair. Mimo disappears in winter, but now he's returned. Mimo laughs when we tell him to stop damaging the toilets. How can we stop him? This year there is a huge children's soccer program in west end parks, including ours: we need the use of our park washrooms. This is the year to fix the problem. Any ideas? Call Johanne at the park club house: 416/392-0913.

[August 2001] Mimo:

Mimo is the homeless Italian man who keeps on plugging the men's park toilets with cardboard. Despite a letter of trespass that bars him from the park, Mimo always drifts back. He says Jesus tells him to plug the toilets, and so this summer again the men's toilet had to be locked for most of the season.

The park staff escorted Mimo out of the park countless times this summer, sometimes waking him up when he was sound asleep on his cardboard "mattress," sometimes interrupting his (infrequent) dinners or his very frequent cigarette constructions (he manufactures his cigarettes from butts he finds in the trash).

Mimo looks energetic, but he smells very bad. He is not violent and therefore he cannot be taken to a mental hospital. Park staff Johanne DeCastro called homeless shelters but they said they don't make visits, they only deal with people who come to the shelter. Mimo doesn't come to the shelters, apparently.

For about five weeks this summer Mimo was without shoes, walking in socks with holes in them. Through the holes one could see bloody blisters. Once he asked for bread at the rink house and then ripped off pieces of the loaf and ate it all at once. Is he sometimes starving?

There are people in this neighbourhood who give Mimo money or who get food for him from time to time. At present Dufferin Grove Park has only this one really troubled homeless person (others, the drinkers, come and go, and can often get what they need). He wants, apparently, to keep living out-of-doors. Does anyone know where he comes from, or anything else about him? Does anyone have ideas of how our neighbourhood could take care of Mimo a little more, for example, where he could get food, where he could get money, where he could wash, and where he could clean his clothes?

[October 2001] Mimo:

Mimo is the homeless Italian man who often comes to the park, almost the only homeless person who regularly came to the park this summer. To recap: in the last issue we asked, does anyone know where Mimo comes from? Does anyone have thoughts on how people in this neighbourhood could help him out a bit more?

Mimo told Jutta Mason that he came to Canada, by boat, with his family from Italy in 1957, when he was 10. Jutta came to Canada with her family, also by boat, in 1956, when she was 9. So they found they had something major in common. Judy Simutis found out that Mimo may have a room to stay in but that he won't use it. There is a bakery near College and Dufferin where Mimo gets food and may make contact with a case worker who is responsible for him. Judy is still trying to get in touch with this caseworker. At the neighbourhood street fair Sept.8, Dr. Sam Masri, a local community psychiatrist who has worked with many homeless people, told some very good stories about imaginative approaches to such problem situations. He once hired a homeless man who preferred to be nomadic (i.e. he didn't want shelter). The job involved going around to other homeless people with a well-stocked knapsack and helping them out in various ways. If they were having a very bad time, the knapsack worker would spend the night near them. He also accompanied people to counselling appointments when they were willing to go, and then followed that up by persuading them to take their medications. He was, in other words, although (or because) he was a nomadic wanderer, a very valuable streetworker.

Dr.Masri has said he is very willing to see Mimo if we can get him to his office.

But for now, here are two more immediate possibilities:

1. Mimo needs a bathroom, but he always plugs up the toilets with paper and cardboard (he says Jesus tells him to do this). So no one will let him use the bathroom and he for that reason he is often dirty. (He actually seems to try very hard to keep clean.) Does anyone in the neighbourhood know where we could rent or borrow a portable toilet for one month and lock it up to the chain link fence near the rink house? The Parks department uses this type of toilet for its allotment gardens in the summers. Mimo could be given the key so that only he could use it. We believe he would probably try to keep it clean. And you can't easily plug a portable toilet. This would be one-month experiment. If you know where we can borrow or rent such a toilet, please call the rink at 416/392-0913 and leave a message or e-mail through the list-serve:

2. Mimo needs clothes. He is rather particular (he told us that what he really wants is a good suit). We have set up a park storage box near the chain link fence by the rink house, and used clothing in good condition will be welcome there. What's needed is men's clothing (pants, underwear, socks, shoes size 9, shirts, sweaters, jackets - all to fit a thin man about 5 feet 7 inches.

Mimo is a generous soul, and not violent. He may often be hungry, but Judy Simutis says last week he offered her part of a cup of coffee he had found.

[November 2001] Mimo: Why He Has Not Starved to Death

The last newsletter had the second piece about Mimo, the homeless Italian man who often comes to the park. We suggested getting a portable toilet (one he couldn't plug with his cardboard collection), and we called for some donated clothes. The first thing that happened after that newsletter is that City Councillor Mario Silva called the Parks Department to ask for a portable toilet. Parks Director Don Boyle agreed to rent one, and the next day it arrived. BUT it had a door that didn't latch. The delivery guy said they always give bad portable toilets to parks because they're just going to be vandalized anyway. That's not an attitude that fits in around here. So we sent the toilet back.

The next day a better toilet arrived. It's been chained to hockey fence all month, and there has been no vandalism. But Mimo hasn't been back to the park to use the toilet either. We did offer him a lockable storage bin for his possessions but we found out then that he doesn't seem to be able to (a) use a key and a padlock and (b) keep a key in his pocket. He can't seem to remember things very well at all.

Councillor Silva also arranged for the involvement of a street worker. Walter Brierley does homeless outreach for the city's hostel services. He found Mimo and talked to him for about 10 minutes. He was impressed with Mimo's friendliness on that occasion. He said he could arrange for him to get a welfare subsistence allowance available for homeless people, that he would bring him a quilt and some clean clothes, and that he would look into rooms and services in this area.

However the next day Mimo didn't show up to meet with Walter. So Walter couldn't give him anything. (But somebody else must have given him a quilt and clothes, because he was carrying around a huge bundle of these things when seen shortly afterwards.)

How does Mimo get food to eat? Jaime Batista, who has a café called Kubata at 962 College St., read the piece about Mimo in the newsletter, and he called the park.

He explained the riddle to us of why Mimo hasn't starved to death in all these years.

Here's why: In addition to all the people who may give Mimo money or food from time to time, there are some Portuguese merchants on College Street who have been feeding Mimo for years. Mimo comes at least once a day to the door of Kubata for a fresh muffin and a coffee. Bairrada Churrasqueira, the busy barbecue restaurant at College and Rusholme, give him plates of left-overs. And Cledys Dos Reis at Sousa's Bakery at 1120 College Street at Dufferin says they often feed him three times a day. Jaime Batista used to allow him inside - his café is very comfortable, with easy chairs at the sunny front window and lots of sweet baked goods in the display case, and the smell of good coffee. But Mimo is not in good shape now, and he scares off other customers, so he's not allowed in anymore. Still, Jaime said he could never stop giving Mimo food. That's not how things are done in Portugal, he says, and his mother would be really upset if he didn't help. Last winter, Mimo came in without shoes on a bitter cold day of minus fifteen. He left with shoes. At Sousa's Bakery, Cledys Dos Reis said the same thing. She can't let Mimo come in - the bakery is very family-oriented, and he scares people. But she could never stop giving him food. "I think, what if he were my dad, and this would happen to him." Cledys said there is a mystery woman called Rita, who has come into the bakery and even left money for Mimo's food. Rita, please call the park (416/392-0913) if you read this.

Jutta called the streetworker, Walter, on his cell phone, to ask if there had been any more contact. But Walter couldn't talk. He was just attending the funeral of another homeless client.

If you see Mimo on the street or in your yard and he's in trouble, call the outreach worker, Walter Brierley on his cell phone at 416/434-4660. Maybe he can help make some new connections for Mimo.

And if you'd like to shake the hands of some remarkable, really substantial people (those Portuguese store owners who've been helping out in this way all these years) go ahead. They're right in our own neighbourhood. Are we ever lucky. But is it right that so little is taken care of through social welfare for people like Mimo? At least in the old-time villages, people like that, who went around with bare, bloody feet in the winter, unable to work or even remember where their clothes were, could find a corner of a barn and keep warm with the animals. Mimo seems to have refused shelter in regular houses and we have no warm barns. What can be done?

[December 2001] Mimo's good luck:

It looks as though Mimo (the homeless man who spends time in the park) might be a lucky person in some ways, despite his troubles. When he decided to sleep in the back yard of City Councillor Silva's neighbour, Councillor Silva took some action. He called a city homeless counselling service, and a counsellor named Walter Brierley began to look for Mimo. Around the same time, Jaime Batista, the owner of the Kubata café on College near Rusholme, read what was written about Mimo in this newsletter, and he called the park. He knew a lot more about Mimo than we did, and the pieces began to fall into place. Again about the same time, Arie Kamp decided to cook soup for homeless people, only he doesn't really know how to cook. So he asked Judy Simutis to teach him, and Judy's mother also helped. Judy went looking for other people who knew Mimo, and found Cledys Dos Reis, owner of Sousa's Bakery at College and Dufferin. Cledys also knew much more than we knew.

Now Walter Brierley, the homeless worker, and Cledys Dos Reis and Jaime Batista have all connected. Walter says he is astonished at the support this community has given Mimo. (Translate: community = a handful of very generous people!) Things are looking up and it looks as though Mimo may have a roof over his head this winter. Lately he's even been looking clean and handsome sometimes.

The fact is, Mimo may talk to unseen people and walk around in a daze some of the time, but in other ways his ability to interest good people in helping him shows sheer genius.

[Jan.2002] Mimo in the winter:

Mimo, the homeless man who spends a lot of time in the park in the summertime, is still out on the street. He still gets much of his food from several generous restaurants on College Street. He also gets to shower there, something he likes very much. Walter Brierley, his caseworker, hopes he'll have some good news by next week, about a shelter suitable for Mimo. If you see Mimo in trouble, call Walter at 416/785-9230, ext.2148, and leave a message.

[March 2002] Mimo gets a warm bed:

Mimo, the homeless man who spends a lot of time in the park in summer, has been living at Seaton House for a whole month, on a special floor where the residents may live for long stays. Walter Brierley continues to work with Mimo. He says that residents don't have to leave the building during the daytime hours if they don't want to. There are mental health workers, there are three square meals a day, and the caretaker is "on board" about Mimo's habit of plugging toilets with cardboard and flooding the bathrooms. (That means that Mimo has been doing this less, and when he does, he doesn't get kicked out.) There is money for clothes, and Mimo was able to get (at his request) six of everything (socks, pants, etc.), which he can secure in his own locker.

Mimo still likes to go on his walk-abouts, and often comes back to our part of town, to the restaurants that have been helping him stay alive for years now. Jaime Batista of Kubata Café says that Mimo still comes and gets a coffee, a proof (laughs Jaime) that Kubata coffee is so delicious it's worth going a long way to get some.

[April 2002] Further adventures with Mimo:

Mimo is staying at city homeless shelter called Seaton House, and in the last newsletter we reported that he has a warm bed, new clothes, and is in good hands. Well…..sort of. We went down to see Seaton House for ourselves, and it's not a place most people would like to call home. It's on George Street, half a block from Allan Gardens and across the street from the back of 311 Jarvis Youth Court and the Young Offenders' holding jail. There is a high, ugly fence around Seaton House and the doors are electronically locked. They buzz you in, if you have an appointment. We did. Cathy Mello, a nurse who has worked there for 14 years, took us upstairs to the fourth floor (a long-term care section, mainly for people with psychiatric problems). She said that two years ago, Seaton House had millions of dollars of renovations. You can sort of see it. There is a TV room and a computer room, and there are only five beds in each sleeping room. There are showers, and washing machines, and there is a locker for each person. There seemed to be plenty of city staff around, many of them in a large office in the centre. The men staying there were sitting in chairs, for the most part, staring at the floor or the wall. Mimo was not around at that moment.

Downstairs, where the younger (non-psychiatric) men are housed for overnight stays, they have to clear out of the sleeping rooms during the day. But they're allowed to stay in the TV room and in the computer room (which is set up for job searches and the writing of resumes). These rooms were packed with men, some looking like your favourite uncle, but with gray and sad faces. The TV was on but no one was looking at it, and few people were talking. It would not be possible to exaggerate the plain dead-end ugliness of those rooms, and the despair hanging in the air.

The nurse said Mimo has been known to the staff at Seaton House for years, only that he disappeared for two years (into our neighbourhood). Now he's back. The nurse said they've got lots of room, and Mimo can stay there as long as he wants. He can get meals, and he can come and go as he wants, day or night. It's not a jail, in other words. But it feels like one - the same sense that nothing will ever happen.

[Jan-Feb 2003] Homeless in the park:

This winter there have been two people without a roof of their own who adopted Dufferin Park as their home base. A very nice 38-year-old man from Hong Kong sits outside the rink hose much of the day with his many bags. He has been sitting there for many months. He will accept no food from us nor warm himself in the rink house, but just smiles and apologizes all the time if you talk to him. At the last farmers' market, though, he saw two female staff move a heavy bench and he suddenly jumped up and said, "you want some help?" He helped carry and then went back into his own world. He seems to spend cold nights in a shelter, and he always carries a bag of sandwiches. Walter Brierley, the wonderfully persistent homeless worker who helped us with old Mimo last year (Mimo is now living in a residence in the Beaches), and Walter's colleague Moira Hines from COTA (Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Mental Health Services), come and check on this man from time to time.

The other homeless person is a fine-looking young woman without a name, who was sleeping out on a bench beside the rink, in a sleeping bag, when park staff arrived to open up one morning. She stayed at the rink house for 4 nights and had meals there while rink staff tried to find a shelter for her. Many rink users encountered her because she talked to a lot of people during those days, not always about things that people could understand. Eventually, some rink staff accompanied her to a hospital for assessment. She is now in a shelter but she returns to the rink sometimes because she likes it there. She finds it a warm atmosphere. Everyone who meets her wishes they could figure out who she is and where she came from, but she gives no clues.

[December 2003] A Surprise from the Homeless Man:

Last winter, the homeless man from Hong Kong sat outside the rink house in all weathers. He wouldn't talk to anyone nor take food nor accept overnight shelter in the rink house. But he managed to live - we could see him eat sandwiches, he seemed to have a source of warm clothes, he used the rink house washrooms to keep clean, and he seemed to have some money. Two homeless-care workers from an organization called COTA - Walter Brierely and Moira Hynes, who have become important friends of the park over the years - came and checked on him from time to time. All of us admired this man's fortitude, even as we wished he would let us help him. But he didn't want that.

When spring came, the man moved down to the other end of the park, and then during the summer he disappeared for a month. When he returned in September, we were shocked at how poorly he looked. He had lost a lot of weight and we seldom saw him eat. He sat on the same bench every day, and if it was raining, he didn't even try to cover himself. If anyone tried to talk to him, he would hide his head in his knapsack. Sometimes he hit himself, and sometimes he screamed. Moira, who often stopped off to see him, said perhaps he was full of lice, and the itching was torture. We agreed that the homeless man was not likely to survive another winter in this condition. But what to do? Walter and Moira said we had to get a "Form 1" to get him into a psychiatric ward, and in order to do that, a doctor had to see him. But how to get him to a doctor? He wouldn't even talk to us.

Somebody remembered that Dr. Alan Abelssohn lives in the neighbourhood, and we called him on the chance that he might be willing to help. He was. Early one morning the doctor went out and spent some time in the park with the homeless man, and then he filled out the form we needed. Walter and Moira called the police and they came to take the man to the hospital.

But the hospital didn't admit him! We were dismayed, until we found out that the man had talked to the hospital staff (who knew he would even talk?) and had asked them to call his brother. The brother had come to get him, and taken him back to his home. The ex-homeless man has a warm place for the winter, and apparently he's going to regular appointments with an out-patient counsellor at the hospital. A therapy based on talk! That's a surprise ending, but a good one.

[Jan.2004] The homeless man from Hong Kong:

Just before Christmas, the homeless man from Hong Kong was back on his park bench in the bitter cold, wearing slippers on his feet. It took three days, with the help of our friend the homeless worker, Moira Hynes, to persuade him to go back to the relative. But when he got home (he went in a cab Moira got for him), both his feet were black from frostbite. The relative took him to the hospital, and a double amputation was considered. But then, a wonderful thing - his feet regained their circulation. And another wonderful thing: he was finally admitted to the psych ward of the hospital, having given them concrete proof of his need for help.

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