When I studied in Toronto, I volunteered with a homeless youth outreach team for a couple of years and several summers. What Light Patrol does is go out onto the streets and expressways of the city weekday nights in a giant red mobile home (they also have a small camper van) and visit homeless and poor people, letting them come onboard and serving them food, hot drinks as well as clothes and minor medical and cosmetic supplies. It was a really eye-opening and humbling experience, seeing the destitution and bleakness involving young people in one of Canada’s and the world’s most prosperous cities. It was also a rewarding experience, not trying to be vain or anything, in serving with the staff and other volunteers to interact with those people and help them in various ways. This is a fine piece about Light Patrol, showing how it came about and describing what it does.
I know I said young people above, but our street friends as we referred to them, were actually a mix of ages, backgrounds and circumstances, though the majority were usually less than 25. There were teenagers, 20 and 30-somethings, seniors and people aged in between. You had youngsters who had run away from home or had been on the streets for less than a year, the odd number of older teens or 20-somethings who were just drifting around the country for the summer playing at being homeless, the street vets, from 20-something to 50-something, some of whom had spent decades homeless or living in shelters, and then there were those who lived in cheap subsidised housing and were jobless and struggling to pay for food and other necessities (needless to say many of them had addictions to alcohol or drugs or the like). The thing about Light Patrol is that in “prowling” the streets and expressways and parks at night, the type of people they helped weren’t mostly the kinds of people who lived in shelters. Whether young or middle-aged or even old (living on the streets really ages you so people look and have health similar to those much older than they really are), many folks simply hated being confined inside a building, not to mention harboring a strong dislike and suspicion towards authority and rules and regulations. Not exactly a practical attitude to life, I know, but it’s a little more understandable if you knew the circumstances and experiences of some of these guys.
The reasons for these people being on the streets aren’t really surprising. There was a small minority of people who were on the streets due to a kind of recklessness and daredevil attitude, but for the vast majority, there was a lot of horror stories and tragedies involved. Whether it was being abused or neglected by alcoholic step-parents or growing up bouncing around from foster home to foster home or being sexually harassed by a parent or growing up on reservations surrounded by alcoholism, suicides and physical abuse, our street friends certainly had some terrible circumstances that they wanted to escape from.