By Ryhana Dawood


I once had a home, just like yours.

Filled with love, laughter and warmth.

Surrounded by my mother, father, brother and sister.


I once had a home in a tropical paradise.

Coconut trees, fresh, salty sea breeze,

and waves crashing against the shore.


I once had a home in a land where I belonged.

People looked, spoke,

and dressed like me.


I once had a home,

until I didn’t have a home anymore.

I was brought to a new land, a new home with new parents.


A new home, in which people didn’t look, speak or dress like me.

And so I eventually outgrew my new home and family,

and went in search of a new one.


I found boys around my age who loved, laughed and were warm.

I made my new home with these boys and men;

I worked for them, used drugs with them, and eventually killed for them.


I lived like this until death took one of our own.

The feelings I felt were raw;

real feelings that shook my core.


I saw them take my brother; 

my ally, my protector, my best friend.

Death took him and so I decided to give myself to death. 


I didn’t die though;

I lived, 

but with consequences.


My body now only moves in slow, jerky movements.

I can’t stand up straight or speak anymore,

but my mind is active and I yearn to communicate with those patient enough to listen.


And so, I find myself in a new home;

a homeless shelter,

a home so different from the homes I once had.


In my new home, I’m trapped inside my body.

People stare at me, bully me, beat me and laugh at me.

I wander the halls of my new home, a mixture of blood, tears and regret streaming down my face.


These halls are filled with men without any other place to go.

Men from all walks of life;

the unemployed, the terminally ill, the drug addicts, the alcoholics and the mentally ill.


On the surface, these men appear to be incapable,

a stress on the system,

a waste of money and space.


However, I know this is not the case.

I know these men were once loved by many and have great things to contribute.

All of these men, even my tormentors.


I never imagined living in a home like this,

with hundreds of men longing for more,

but unable to attain it.


I’m surrounded by so many people,

yet I continue to long for human contact;

eternally yearning for the home I once had.

Inspired by a client I met at a Toronto men’s homeless shelter during my medical elective with the Palliative Education And Care for the Homeless Initiative. This unique program is affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital and was started in 2014 by Dr. Naheed Dosani and Street RN Namarig Ahmed. 

Are you a health care worker with experience working with the homeless? Let us know your story.

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