By Terry Provost
At about five or six years of age our parents separated and our mother became our primary caregiver. We bounced around for a while staying with various relatives when we could: however, a lot of times they did not want to take on the burden of having our mother and her three children staying with them when they had their own families to take care of.
I can remember the night we arrived at Nellie’s. I don’t recall the date or even the month, but I remember it was cold out. Our mother had called a number of relatives to see if we could stay with them, but they all refused. We were walking the streets at night with nowhere to go. My brothers and I, just being young kids, had no idea of the dire situation we were in. Looking back now though, it breaks my heart to think of my mother in this situation with three young children. I remember we stopped at a pay phone and she made a call. Later that night we arrived at Nellie’s.
I remember how kind and caring the staff was, and our fellow residents as well. My brothers and I were fed, clothed and taken care of. Nellie’s felt like home to us and we were happy there. I remember a room downstairs that was full of used and donated clothing. We spent hours down there jumping around and playing in this huge pile of clothing. Next to this room was the TV room, another area that occupied a lot of our time.
I can remember one evening my brothers and me were in the TV room watching Pee Wee Herman. Another resident came in and turned the channel to the Olympics. We sure were angry and proceeded straight to the office to voice our complaint with one of the women working there. She did her best to make us feel better. Another time our younger brother, who would have been about two years old at the time, took our mother’s clock radio and tossed it out the window, breaking it. We took the broken radio to a lady who was working in the office and asked her if she could fix it for us. She retrieved a few tools and spent a considerable amount of time trying to fix this clock radio for us. I will always remember how kind and patient she was.
Over the next couple of years, we bounced around to different shelters including The Red Door, The Robinson House, The Spadina House, and Women in Transition. We did a few stints at Nellie’s.
Throughout this, my brothers and I always had a close and loving relationship which still exists today. There is no doubt in my mind that this is what carried us through the tough times.
When we were about seven we were able to leave the shelter system and move into an apartment with the help of social assistance from the government.
We grew up with mostly other kids from single parent families. A number of them wound up on welfare themselves and with lengthy criminal records. We had a loving mother who made it clear to us from an early age that she did not want that type of life for us. She encouraged us to stay in school and to always stick together and be there for each other. Somehow, despite the negative influences all around, we all stuck together and managed to stay on the straight and narrow path.
Jayme and I graduated high school together and were the first members of our family to pursue post-secondary education.
In 2007 we both joined the Toronto Police Service where we still serve today.
We are both married and have children of our own. I often have to remind my daughter, who is six, of what my childhood was like when she starts complaining about how hard hers is because she can’t have a certain toy or go on a certain vacation.
I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but I can truly say that things may have turned out a lot differently for us had it not been for places like Nellie’s.