“My stepdad and me really didn’t get along and my mom and me have never gotten along since I was four or five years old,” Mike recalls.
Mike’s room in our long-term residence, Rights of Passage, looks lived in. Though he tidied it that morning, loose change sits on his desktop beside his black laptop. A flag from his favourite soccer team is pinned to his wall. Mike is a tall young man, but he is nervous and smiles sheepishly as speaks. He peers out from under the brim of his Blue Jays hat. His grin is infectious.
Mike’s father left when he was six years old and his relationship with his mother was turbulent at best. But when his mother remarried when Mike was 13, things really got bad.
“There was a lot of verbal fights and a couple of physical fights,” Mike remembers. “It wasn’t good,” he adds quietly.
Mike got kicked out when he was 17 and did his best to tough it out on his own. He laughs about how little he knew back then.
“I thought it would be a lot easier than it was. I didn’t know the Internet cost money when I left home,” he chuckles. “I thought you paid your rent and you had everything set up for you. I feel like I wasn’t prepared to live by myself.”
Mike really wanted to make it on his own and didn’t want to have to rely on anyone. But, like so many of our youth, he soon realized how difficult it was to find a job that paid enough to support him.
For the three years, Mike lived paycheque to paycheque, working in low paying jobs and living in run down apartments. Then things finally seemed to be looking up. Mike found a good paying job and he was able to move into a nicer apartment. But suddenly he was laid off and lost everything.
“I think the scariest thing for me was just before I came here realizing I have no options left. I spent a month on a friend’s couch wondering what am I going to do when I leave?”
He spent several nights on the street, sleeping in stairways and staying up in all night coffee shops until, finally, he came to Covenant House.
“My first day was brutal,” Mike says. “I was scared. I was angry. I hated it. I didn’t want to be here,” he explains through a knowing smile. Feeling like a failure, he didn’t speak to anyone for his first three or four days. It took him awhile to open up and actually meet people – both staff and other youth.
“There is this stereotype on homelessness,” he explains. “You have these things in your head, notions that if you’re homeless, you’re the bottom of the bottom, you’re low, you’re gross, you’re nothing.”
It didn’t take much more than a week for Mike to realize that this was the break he was looking for. Looking back, he wishes he had come here as soon as he was kicked out of his mother’s house.
“I feel like I wasted three years of my life,” he admits with regret. He is planning to go to college and feels he would have already achieved that had he not struggled for so long on his own.
Mike moved from our crisis shelter into Rights of Passage and joined our Cooking for Life culinary arts training program. That’s when he realized something he never knew about himself.
“I had never worked in a kitchen before here. I actually love cooking,” he says. He completed his Cooking for Life internship and together with glowing letters of recommendation from our chef and his placement chef, Mike applied for a cooking job online at a popular downtown pub and was hired full time.
Learning how to be smart and save money is what he feels is the greatest lesson he’s learned here. Every paycheque he puts away at least $50 to a separate account that he doesn’t touch.
“I’m grateful for the skills I’ve developed and the people I’ve met,” he says earnestly. “The way Covenant House has helped me, kept me off the streets … From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”