Throngs of people streamed noisily past my dad and I as we stood outside the Yonge and Dundas entrance to Toronto’s Eaton Centre, Canada’s busiest mall. Though it was early spring, a winter chill still lingered in the air.
Through a gap in the crowd my dad spotted a young woman about 25 metres away who appeared to be experiencing homelessness. She was bending down to retrieve something out of a bag at the south/west corner of Yonge and Dundas. She was oblivious to the crowd, as it was to her. Dressed in old, dirty clothes, she looked a lonely and forlorn figure. My dad approached her and introduced the two of us.
“Excuse me,” he said to her with a smile and outstretched hand. “My name is Tim, and this is my daughter Leah. What’s your name?” “I’m Lucy,” she answered in a quiet, shy voice as she shook our hands. My dad proceeded to tell Lucy that we were working on a book entitled Nowhere to Call Home. “Would you mind if Leah takes some pictures of you and I ask you a few questions?” he asked her. It will only take about 10 minutes. We’ll pay you $10.”
“Can you take my boyfriend Rylie’s picture too?” Lucy replied excitedly. When my dad said that we could, she ran south down Yonge Street to look for him. She returned about 10 minutes later with Rhylie in tow.
I set up my camera equipment beside the north wall of the Eaton Centre. It has a massive, lit-up, white sign that serves as a perfect backdrop. After Lucy had seated herself on a little ledge beside the sign, I began to snap some photos of her while my dad recorded the interview with her. Lucy began by telling him that she once had big dreams. “I’ve always been a writer, like, journaling and short stories and what not,” she told him. “But now, it’s hard to keep up with the stuff you love, because it’s just survival.” Lucy told us that she became addicted to opioids when she was just a child. “I’ve been an opioid addict since I was fourteen,” she said, “but it was always manageable. I, like, had a job. I was going to school. I had my own place to live. I had interests.” However, one day she reached the point where her addiction took over her life. She found herself with no job, no schooling to speak of, and no place to live.
Though my dad and I have met several people experiencing homelessness who told us that they’ve managed to adapt to living outside in the, often, harsh Canadian elements, Lucy is not one of them. “I have a hard time with sleeping outside and stuff like that,” she said. “A lot of people, like, you know, they adjust….” Not surprisingly, throughout my photo shoot with Lucy her eyes closed repeatedly. Lucy told us, excitedly, that she would soon be leaving the streets that she hates so much. “It’s transitional housing,” she said. “And I’m, like, moving in, in, like, three days. So I get my own bathroom, and I share a kitchen, and I’ll have my own bedroom.”
Sadly, this was not to be the case.
For the following fall when my dad and I were again doing a photo shoot beside the Eaton Centre, we noticed Lucy and Rhylie sleeping on a broken up cardboard box in the middle of the sidewalk on Dundas Street. At one point during the photo shoot my dad noticed Lucy sit up and look around. He was shocked by her appearance. Though only in her twenties, she looked as if she was in her eighties. “How is she ever going to make it through the coming winter?” he thought to himself.
The following spring my dad and I began to keep an eye open for Lucy. My book had come out—with Lucy’s photo on the cover—and I wanted to give her a copy. However, despite the fact that my dad and I did several photo shoots of people experiencing homelessness outside of the Eaton Centre, Lucy was nowhere to be found. “I hope Lucy made it through the winter,” my dad commented to me after a futile search for her.
Continued in Part 2
Since the age of 14, I have taken portraits of people experiencing homelessness.