Tony has reason to be grateful. There was a time when he lived in a downtown Ottawa park with no possessions save a sleeping bag.
“Every day,” says Tony, “I think, God, you got me out of bed, so what can I do for you? I stop for a coffee and then I head over to The Salvation Army.”
Tony's life took a turn for the better after receiving help from The Salvation Army. In return, Tony has dedicated 26 years of his life giving back by volunteering his time helping with the laundry at The Ottawa Booth Centre.
“I have turned my life into a positive. I focus on that, not on the negative”
Journey to Booth
Tony was first guided toward The Salvation Army’s Ottawa Booth Centre after being arrested in February 1986. But his story begins back in 1980 when he was diagnosed with Lupus. Tony’s illness kept him from being able to hold down his full-time position at a large Ottawa department store, and within a few months he had to give up his apartment near downtown Ottawa.
At the time Tony didn’t know much about social and disability assistance and admits to having been a bit too proud to ask for help. He found himself sleeping in a park and when the first storm hit, he went to a police station where he asked to stay in a holding cell for the night to get out of the rain.
“I had my sleeping bag with me and they asked for my shoelaces. I said, ‘Why do you want them?’ The officer answered, ‘In case you want to hang yourself.’ I replied, ‘I came in so I wouldn’t catch pneumonia. Does that sound like I want to hang myself?’ ” Tony laughs.
From there, Tony moved around from one rooming house to the next.
“It was a very bad area at the time,” Tony explains. “I’d had no experience with drugs and I found myself living in a notorious crack house without even knowing it,” Tony explains.
After months of trouble with the people living in the building, one night some of the men started punching holes in the adjoining walls, causing extensive damage. When the police arrived, everyone ran away except Tony.
“I hadn’t done anything but I got dragged into court over this,” he goes on to say. “I was upset and distraught and nothing was making sense to me because I hadn’t grown up in this kind of environment.”
This is when the judge directed Tony to The Salvation Army’s Booth Centre, a men’s shelter that helps those in need and also accommodates those with chronic illnesses who cannot live alone.
“The staff calmed me down,” says Tony. “I was scared when I first moved in. These were the kind of people I’d been told to stay away from when I was a kid, so I was petrified. But things started to become clearer when I realized there were good people here.”
Focus on the Positive
Tony was given a private room at The Salvation Army where he lived for the next 16 years. He worked in the Ottawa Booth Centre kitchen for a time to help cover the costs of his meals and then he worked in the laundry.
When the special care unit was introduced at The Ottawa Booth Centre in 2002, The Salvation Army in partnership with the City of Ottawa helped Tony move into his own apartment as he was able to live independently.
But every Monday to Friday, Tony returns to Booth, to spend about six hours a day volunteering his time doing laundry at The Salvation Army.
“I come back here every day because it’s something to do and I need structure in my life,” said Tony.
Tony takes pride in his work and opens a closet of neatly folded sheets.
“They have to be folded like they are ready to be packaged. It took a couple of weeks to teach me how and now I do it the right way. I smile when I see others still doing it the way I did when I started,” he smiles.
Tony continues to rely on dinner at The Ottawa Booth Centre every day.
“I am always amazed at the food they offer here. If I am home alone I don’t make a dessert and a soup and I don’t know what to do with vegetables. This is a Sunday dinner for me every day of the week,” he beams.
Tony explains he’s going to keep on volunteering at The Ottawa Booth Centre for as long as he is able.
“I have turned my life into a positive. I focus on that, not on the negative. Life is beautiful and it’s meant to be lived that way.”
by Caroline Franks