Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!

Homelessness Can Happen to Any of Us

We recently learned that Omer Gaudet, a very well known social-media activist who was, among other things, involved with the Occupy movement, had been homeless for a while. Contrary to the idea that homelessness only affects mentally ill people or people with drug addictions, it is a predicament that can affect all of us, including people who have contributed to the workforce for decades. This is Omer’s story.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Mr. Omer Gaudet. Would you please tell us a little about your background?

I am a 50-year old man, born and raised in the greater Toronto area. I’ve lived in the west end near the lake shore pretty much all my life. I’ve worked approximately 30 years in manufacturing and spent 20 years with one company before taking an optional package. During my first 10 years, I progressed from the shop floor, where I would also lead my union. For my second decade, I progressed to middle management  as Master Scheduler, Warehouse Supervisor, Maintenance Supervisor, Production Supervisor and Purchase Agent. I then worked as a Plant Supervisor for an automotive tier II. Also, I worked as a Fabrication and Shipping Supervisor for an Aluminum manufacturer. I’ve even supervised in the Chrysler building in Brampton during my career.

Now you are unemployed and on social services, and you were homeless for a while. How did this happen?

Yes, I’m currently seeking employment. I was with family for a while but because of conflicts, I felt it in my best interest to leave. I contacted social services to tell them I needed a shelter. My first phone call, they recommended a shelter in Mississauga, 10 minutes from where I’d been living, but when I called them, they said that I was not eligible to go to this district because my last known residence was in Toronto. I was told to call again… kept on hold for over 30 minutes for both calls. Then I call again. After another 30 minutes, they say they have a place for me at the Sherbourne and Queen Street Salvation Army Shelter 60 minutes away by subway from my home. They say I have two hours to get there or jeopardize my spot. So I hustle down there only to be told once I arrive that, even after two hours on the phone, I am not booked in as I was told.

Ultimately you were booked in and got some sort of orientation from the staff.

When they booked me in, they gave me a little pamphlet that basically outlined the guidelines and rules for the facility. No one reached out to help me. No one explained anything to me, really. I walked around and observed. Then I began to interact with some of the other fellows. Once I did, I became more familiar with how things worked.

Would you describe the shelter environment?

A shelter isn’t a whole lot of fun. There’s a common area to watch TV. Otherwise, basically you chill in your room or go outside. As far as going outside, the park settings throughout the heart of the city tend to be a haven for gangs and crackheads or, sadly, disadvantaged people in need of serious assistance. This is what you have outside the shelter. You sit down to have a smoke, and every two seconds someone comes by and asks to bum one from you.

And your roommates?

I spoke to several men there in the shelter. Sadly, a great many of them were “chronics,” meaning they’d lived in the shelter for extended periods, even years. Many came from broken backgrounds as well. They worked enough to support whatever addictions they had, alcohol or drugs, while living in the shelter system. In the shelter, guys would curse at one another and threaten to kill one another over a loonie [a $1 coin] or a couple of cigarettes. At 3:45 in the morning, one fellow comes into the room and starts yelling at another one to get the fuck out of his bed. After a scuffle, an attendant finally came to quiet things down.

How long did you stay at the shelter?

One night! I refuse to be in such a desecrating environment. Not healthy for me in my current predicament. So at this point I was redirected to housing.

What happened with housing? Did they offer you support?

They told me that my initial appointment would be about 10 days from our first chat. I asked them, what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Am I coming over to your place to chill?

We spent almost 10 days looking for a room for me in the west end near the lake shore, which I think of as home and where my parents live. Unfortunately, the closest place they were able to get me was two buses and a streetcar ride away, because they lacked the funds to secure me a place in my local area. This being said, I felt that these people were really the only ones who had provided me any assistance at all since I’d been dealing with social services.begging slogans6

So how did you get by while you were waiting for housing from social services?

Well, my choices were to live on the streets or return to the shelter, which I would refuse to do under any circumstance. So I stayed in the parks, visited some friends. The biggest problem was food. You see, they funnel everything to downtown. If you live in either the west or east end of Toronto, you’re forced into the core of the city. Shelters and even meals are directed there. What I found absolutely hilarious is that the local food sources in the west end close for the summer months July and August. I asked them: do people stop eating during these months?

What would it take to get you back into the workforce?

My greatest barrier to finding employment is my education. I have only one year of college, and I’m having to compete against others in my field who have MBAs and other certifications. To re-enter the work force at my levels, I would realistically need to upgrade. I could probably do the certification in three months. I’ve purchased the disk and can already score perfectly on the first segment of the test, which would get me my APICS – CPIM [Certified in Production and Inventory Management]. Unfortunately, social services will not support funding for a certification. So my only other viable option is another year of college. Social services stipulates that you must go to college full-time for a year. Why? I could do the course through correspondence in four months. Plus, they expect you to pay a portion of your college expenses. I got my first year of college through them, but back then I had money in my pocket from my severance package. I couldn’t do that under my current circumstances for sure.

Does social services offer training?

Basically they offer very little. They have some training programs, but these aren’t based on my work experiences in middle management where I’ve often been a hiring manager. They only offer skills training that prepare people for labor-ready minimum-wage jobs. They wanted to put me in their general warehousing course which, based on my 30+ years of work experience, offered me little to no value whatsoever. They did re-certify my forklifts, but this is a special approval based on the expectation that I would have a job lined up. Woohoo! My training would help me make $14 an hour instead of minimum wage! Thanks Harper government for all your help!

How would sum up your experiences with social assistance?

I worked 30 years of my life and paid into the system throughout my career. Is this is all the support they can offer for all the money they’ve taken from me over the years? There was a time when it was written into the unemployment insurance and social services that you had a right to return to work at a level comparable to your past record. For certain, these principles don’t apply anymore. What I see is a situation where the only support comes from the benevolence of kind people and the churches. The government does little more than regulate and slash programs. We certainly can afford to finance the corporate whores that have oppressed society to the extreme, we can afford weapons and prisons, but there’s no money for education, health care or social programs to support children, the elderly and the unemployed!

Omer Gaudet is a well know Canadian social media activist. This interview was originally published in News Junkie Post.

More articles by:
October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage