When Michael woke, the strong smell of disinfectant filled his nostrils, and all he could see were the blurry outlines of tubes protruding from his bruised and broken body. It was 2008, and Michael, then 59, had no idea why he was there. The last thing he remembered was riding his motorcycle down the interstate.
For years, Michael worked as a horse conditioner in the U.S. Life was comfortable, and he’d saved for his coming retirement.
All that changed when Michael was walking a horse back to the corral one day. The horse broke away, turned, and kicked its hoof into Michael’s skull. He managed to walk away, but was unaware of his severe concussion, which surfaced four days later while riding down the highway. He awoke from a two-day coma with 18 broken ribs and internal bleeding on top of the severe concussion, and was kept in intensive care for four weeks.
Without medical insurance in the U.S., the hospital bills drained his bank accounts. Michael had to sell everything he owned to get out of debt – his house, his car, and his horses. “At 60 years old, I was starting all over again,” said Michael.
Back in Toronto, Michael spent the next three years rehabilitating his body. But the dizzy spells, nose bleeds, and short-term memory loss all kept him from working.
In 2012, determined to get back to work, Michael came to Surrey to work at the racetrack. He had heard that the track provided accommodations to their employees; however, he soon found out that rooms were no longer offered, and he had to rent his own place.
Then he discovered his body could not do what it used to; three hours was all he could work in a day. It wasn’t enough for rent money. “Now, all of a sudden, I had no place to live,” said Michael. “I didn’t know what to do.”
He chose to go to the Gateway Shelter run by Keys: Housing and Health Solutions, where he knew he would have a place to sleep and a meal to eat. Three weeks later, a support worker from Keys approached Michael and offered him accommodations through Peterson Place – a former motel turned into subsidized housing.
Michael is now proud to call Peterson Place call home, and he continues to receive needed support from Keys there. At 64, Michael is still unable to find work due to health problems, but he has taken to helping with the building’s garden. He waters and weeds, and patiently awaits the small bounty of radishes, beans and tomatoes come fall.
Non-profit organizations such as Keys: Housing and Health Solutions, are supported by the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society.
Written by Amy Ounsted