By Lindsay Fitzgerald
To the average student, Jason Serroul might just be the guy who opens the door for you at Tim Hortons on Victoria Street in the morning and wishes you a good evening after a long day at school.
But what you don’t know is that the 34-year-old self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades has sporadically lived on and off the streets since he was a kid.
That was until he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his late 20s, deeming him mentally ill by the province. The soft-spoken Serroul was forced into the Toronto East General Hospital in East York.
MakeTreksLikeImHomeless, a student-run non-profit organization, has told stories that are similar to Serroul’s to dispel the public’s general misconceptions and ignorance about homelessness,
They have made it their goal to show the harsh reality of living on the streets.
Tom Evans, a fourth-year film student, came up with the idea for the organization after he befriended Darryl, a homeless man whom he talked to everyday on his way home from school for a year.
To help publicize the cause, Evans decided to film an interview with Darryl and post it on YouTube.
The members of MakeTreks give people who live on the streets care packages in return for a filmed interview.
“The whole idea is to rid the ignorance that surrounds homelessness,”said Evans. “Rather than [only] seeing a drunk bum, [we want people to] see that five-year-old boy who was raped by his dad.”
According to the Toronto Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, in April 2009 there were an estimated 5,086 homeless people in Toronto.
Care packages, worth $100, are comprised completely of donations and sales from merchandise they sell on their website.
Evans has posted six interviews, with several others waiting to be posted on their website.
Peter Rosenthal, a University of Toronto professor for the faculty of law said the issues of homelessness in Toronto are part of the “casualities of capitalism.”
Rosenthal is also on the executive team for Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) and is one of three lawyers working on cases dealing with the lack of housing programs in Toronto.
“One of the most horrible aspects of Canadian society, in wealthy society, is we allow people to live so poorly,” he said.
Bill Chapman, program director for community services at the Metropolitan United Church, started working as a community services counsellor in 2002.
Chapman said that he was homeless for a short period of time in the early 1990s.
“I had an alcohol addiction [which] I am now completely free of. It was not for a lack of affordable housing,” he said. “There is a huge misconception [of homelessness]. Ask anyone who has worked closely with them.”
Metropolitan United Church works directly with Toronto drop-in network service programs, counseling and housing support.
Although Chapman has come to terms with his past, he said that he would have told them anything to get a roof over his head.
“I was in denial of my addiction,” he said. “I would have told them a different reason to why I was homeless. I’m not sure to what extent we are getting the whole truth.”
Chapman said that if MakeTreks offered him housing in exchange for his story, “I would have done anything for a place.”
But he said that it wouldn’t have helped him.
“It may have even enabled me to avoid dealing with the root cause of my homelessness.”
Chapman said that, from his experience, the root cause of homelessness is addiction.
“As soon as we start depending on something to make us feel good, such as alcohol, drugs, another person, a material thing, it will inevitably turn into suffering,”he said.
“[But] I think it is important that we hear any story that would bring attention to suffering in our community.”
Evans said he wanted to start the organization to expose people to the issues surrounding our city and community.
“The whole idea is not to judge them until you walk in their shoes.”