Writing prize puts homeless man on course

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By Jennifer McGregor

Thanks to a creative writing contest for homeless people, Ryan Rogers is polishing the skills he needs to share his story with the world.

His first-place prize — a feature-writing course in Ryerson’s continuing education program and a $500 prize from Kernel’s popcorn — allowed him to get off the streets and plan for the future.

“I always wanted to write but I was afraid what might come out if I did,” he said. “That was my first attempt.”

Rogers said the timely $500 award came two weeks before Christmas and has given him the opportunity to get back on his feet financially.

Rogers, who left school 15 years ago in grade 10 because of financial problems, said he never thought he’s be able to return.

“If it wasn’t for winning the course do you think I would have actually come up with $500. Come on, let’s be realistic, I would never have been able to go to school,” he said.

But Rogers doesn’t consider himself to be a poster boy for homelessness. When he was laid off from a job at Woodbine Race Track, he said he had trouble coming up with rent money.

“I wasn’t able to put any money away … Toronto is so expensive: you need first and last [month’s rent] and if you are starting from scratch it’s next to impossible,” he explains.

It was the transition between being laid off and receiving unemployment insurance that forced him to move to Na Me Res, a native men’s residence near Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West, instead of the streets of downtown Toronto.

“The sheer stress of the housing situation in Toronto allows people to charge whatever they want,” Rogers says. “No wonder so many people are back and forth between hostels and rooming houses.”

Darryl Borden, fundraising director at The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian Relief Committee — the group that organized the award — agrees that Rogers’ situation is common to many homeless people.

“There really isn’t a stereotypical homeless person,” Borden said. “[Rogers] was between stages in his life and living in a shelter.”

“It’s difficult to live a positive existence when you don’t know where you are going and you have no place to call home,” Borden says.

It was at Na Me Res that Rogers saw the advertisement for the writing contest. He said the poster awakened something in him and he decided to enter.

And with a prize-winning — and possibly life-altering — first attempt, Rogers now hopes to develop his talent. He says he plans to pursue writing as a career.

“I want to write about things that really mean something on a deep emotional level.”

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