Once homeless, tour guide shows Torontonians a different side of the city

Stephen Grant had been homeless in the City of Toronto for four years. After losing employment, he was taking shelter in sleeping bags during the night or lying beside the ATM of a TD Bank.

Today, Grant acts as a guide for Street Orientation Walks. These walks, out of a church called Sanctuary, are his way of telling his story to people while informing them about a side of homelessness in Toronto he thinks is often overlooked.

“Back in my working day, if I saw a homeless guy, I would walk right by him,” Grant said. “Today, that’s a different story. I would go down and sit right next to him, have a good conversation.”

During the walk around Toronto neighbourhoods, Grant shows people the places he would reside and what he did to keep alive. He tells participants to imagine they themselves were homeless and consider what they would do to survive: where will they sleep, how will they make money, what will they do for entertainment, and where will they go to the washroom?

Pastor Doug Johnson Hatlem is involved with Sanctuary and was the person who invited Grant to live in his home back when he was living on the streets. Together they organize the Street Orientation Walks and provide warm clothes and hot chocolate to the homeless. For newcomers who want to volunteer with Sanctuary, Johnson Hatlem says the walks help them to understand what the church is about.

“We do on average three to five walks a week as an organization,” Johnson Hatlem said. “We encourage people who want to get to know our organization to take these walks.”

The Street Orientation Walk has even had people come back to relearn Grant’s message.

Jesse Masci, a college student who has already participated twice, says he still walks away reminded of what he didn’t see before in Toronto.

“I think we pass through our cities a lot and we don’t realize what’s happening behind all the ads, the fancy lights and the storefronts,” Masci said. “Ever since I did this, I’ve seen the city completely backwards.”