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‘I was thrown out of a place ... for reasons not known to me’

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

This alcove in a downtown Barrie building is where Lucy is calling home as she waits for her disability pension paperwork to kick in. CHERYL BROWNE BARRIE EXAMINER

This alcove in a downtown Barrie building is where Lucy is calling home as she waits for her disability pension paperwork to kick in. CHERYL BROWNE BARRIE EXAMINER

Fat snowflakes fall lazily from the sky as Lucy makes her bed.

She pulls the brown tarp over the comforter and mattress, and a black tarp over those, but it kicks up in the wind. She shakes off the snow and has to start all over again.

Living in a small alcove under a bank in an alley behind the Dunlop Street shops, you pass well-dressed bankers in the heated rooms overhead as you make your way to Lucy’s place.

The 8x10 vent she’s moved her world onto is stark yet roomy, with its cement walls that break the wind on three sides.

A few bags of clothes and food are tucked around the mattress and Lucy says sometimes, she imagines heat is coming out of the vent.

“Sometimes there’s a sense of heat, but I don’t know because underneath a sense of the heat is all that concrete,” she said.

She shakes her head as if the very notion of heat is foolish and she isn’t silly enough to pin her hopes on it.

At 43, Lucy is a big woman with rough hands, as if she’s lived or worked outside for a long time. And yet she has a soft, gentle handshake.

She’s wearing sneakers and many pairs of socks, but she could use more, she said.

She has a large windbreaker on over coats and sweaters, and the hood pulled up over a beige toque.

She stuffs her hands up into her armpits for warmth and smiles as she allows herself a moment to dream.

“Tell them I need more blankets and socks. That I could use some pillows, clothing or food.

I don’t have enough of anything at all.”

She has large serious hazel eyes that blink the snowflakes off her lashes as she accepts her fate stoically.

“People ask if I’m all right. It gets big, it gets small,” she said, indicating perhaps how a person’s fears and demons can overwhelm even the strongest of women sometimes.

She was born in Ontario and has lived in Toronto for the last few years.

If she survives the winter, March 22 will be her first anniversary of living on the streets, after she lost her room in Toronto last year.

“I was thrown out of a place I was living in for reasons not known to me,” Lucy said.

She’s applied for a disability pension saying she’s filled out all of the paperwork and that the announcement of a warm place to stay is just around the corner.

“At this point, asking for more attention is not going to help,” she said, but adds she’s not sure who she spoke with and when decisions will be made on her behalf.

Lucy says the police are good to her, David Busby Street Centre folk drop by, and a volunteer with Out of the Cold has offered her shelter in area churches that take in the homeless nightly in Barrie during the worst of the winter months.

“I don’t sleep in churches,” she states bluntly, adding, “I don’t want to be uplifted.”

Lucy won’t talk about a family or her previous life, although she offers she may have had contact with the CIBC for a dozen years.

Those memories are locked up, tucked away and not for social consumption.

Now that her bed’s made, she’ll head over to the Salvation Army’s soup kitchen and maybe buy a coffee later in the day.

It’s not for the companionship, it’s for the warmth, she said.

“It’s not about being alone, it’s about being a loner.”

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