CRAIG VAN MANEN / SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
Writer’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles that feature our neighbours in downtown Brantford who are a part of the homeless community. At times the real names of these neighbours will be substituted with another for the preservation of their privacy. It’s important to remember that every resident of Brantford we meet has a completely unique story and a life that deserves to be valued. I hope that’s achieved, if even in the smallest of ways, by means of this series.
Colborne street, warm with traffic, eats up the slowly falling snow as Kevin and I sit down in the library lobby.
He’s half-way through his third cup of coffee and I’ve just finished my tea. In the age-old tradition of relating to a stranger he brings up the weather.
“Winter’s finally here I guess,” he says.
But this is more than a formality for Kevin, he says he’s grateful to be here and not back in Winnipeg. Only four short years ago he was battling temperatures more than twice as cold.
“Can you believe they’re proud of it,” he says of friends who live in Winnipeg, “they’re proud they can make it in some of the coldest weather in Canada.”
Kevin was a police officer in Winnipeg for three years and while he saw some tough things nothing really prepared him for his return to Brantford in 2016. He grew up in this city but says it’s changed quite drastically from what he remembers.
The drug and housing issues have left Brantford much more hopeless than he left it, and according to Kevin, the number of factors causing the social issues of 20 years ago have increased exponentially.
Interestingly, he believes that much of Brantford’s revitalization could come from a better perspective.
“People don’t want to come to the downtown because they hear of stabbings or theft but a lot of that is reputation,” he says, “if people looked closer, they’d realize that, yes, there are crimes, but most of them happen really late at night or really early in the morning—that’s why timmies closes at midnight now.”
Kevin’s infectious positivity shows that he really cares about his city. I would very much agree that it’s impossible to breathe new life into a broken Brantford if it’s not embraced by its own inhabitants.
Kevin also shares that he’s thankful he recently found a place, but he knows the struggle to stay afloat amidst an increasingly competitive rental market. That’s why he volunteers at Friendship House, a local shelter that provides two meals a day, every day.
When he needed the basics and received more than enough from Friendship House he thought of a way to repay their kindness.
“Because of my expertise I run security for them—some shovels were stolen out of our shed a couple months ago and there’s not much you can do but have somebody always keeping an eye out,” he proudly states.
As I thank him and get up to leave Kevin tells me he’s waiting for something, however, he’s not quite sure what. One thing he does know, if he’s waiting for the snow to stop, he’ll be waiting for quite awhile longer.
I don’t doubt that Kevin’s trusty walking stick and plucky attitude keep him up and about in Brantford for many years to come. I’m inspired by community advocates like Kevin who know what it’s like to be without and therefore give out of empathy.
Keep an eye out for him when you’re in the library, he’s often there working on his projects, as he’s a full-time writer, or passing the time colouring. He’d love to tell you all about what we can do for a needy but hopeful city and our neighbours within.