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The Shelter Gardener

How your gifts help to end homelessness for men like Larry

Thanks to your giving, Larry has a place to stay, meals to eat and – now – a garden to care for at Mission Services’ emergency shelter for men while he waits for affordable housing.

If you take a walk on James Street North in downtown Hamilton in the evening, you might recognize Larry. This summer, Larry has spent many of his evenings outside Mission Services’ emergency shelter tending to the flowers in the garden boxes at the front of the building. “I always do a bit of maintenance in the evening when it’s quieter,” Larry explains. “During the day people will sometimes stop and take pictures of the flowers. That’s nice to see.”

Larry has been homeless now for five months. He was evicted this spring with his girlfriend after they fell behind on their rent – but not for lack of trying. They used to make payments through a trusteeship program that helped low-income households pay rent bills on time to avoid putting their housing in jeopardy. That program lost funding, however, which left people like Larry and his girlfriend without the support they needed to live on a very limited budget.

After their eviction, Larry’s girlfriend moved into women’s only supportive housing because of some health complications. Larry found himself without a place to live.


Larry overlooking the impatiens he helped to plant in the garden boxes purchased with a gift from TD Friends of the Environment

Larry grew up in Clairmont, Ontario where his parents – married for 45 years – owned a family restaurant. He came to Hamilton to be closer to specialists who could help him manage his seizures, which he has had since he was seven years old. But finding work was not easy. “It’s hard to get employment with disabilities. I lost my eye in an accident because of a seizure, and when you mention that, a foreman is less likely to let you handle equipment or do certain jobs.” The trusteeship program used to give Larry confidence that his rent and essential bills would be paid on time. Without it, managing on the Ontario Disability Support Program has been more difficult.

Soon after he was evicted, Larry started to come to Mission Service’ emergency shelter on James Street North for meals. When staff learned he had nowhere else to go, they got him on a wait-list for affordable housing and he moved into the shelter.

“Thankfully, the Mission has helped me out a lot,” Larry says, “and I know it’s because of people who donate.”

Larry has been on the wait-list for three months now. “I’m optimistic about getting housing. I want to get into an apartment where they monitor your medications. I’ve had seizures since I was a child and need to take daily medication,” he explains. “But since I’ve been at the Mission, my health has gotten much better because I am taking my medications on schedule. I also meet with the shelter doctor and am taking better care of myself.”

Looking after the garden beds on the shelter’s property is another way that Larry is taking care of himself while he waits for an affordable housing spot to open up. The garden boxes were recently provided by a gift from TD Friends of the Environment to enhance the green space at the shelter and support local pollinators.

“I transplanted one tree and have seen the impatiens in the front come a long way,” he says. “These ones here are interesting because they sweat in the sun; they get all waxy. I haven’t see that before.”

Larry continues: “I will miss this place when I do find housing. The staff have been so helpful and the meals are delicious. Kathy is my favourite cook,” Larry says with a laugh.