Living In The Moment: Reflecting on My Homelessness

my homelessness

Wanting to write and finding the time to write something worth reading are two entirely different things.

Even the thought of exposing my own vulnerability and oversharing my story with masses of people who might otherwise be ambivalent is an intimidating concept. That said, why would the average consumer of content on this page or any other page take anything I am saying seriously if I don’t show a little sincerity. If I don’t offer my own pound of flesh, then why would a soundbite culture really give a damn?

I have played the tricky game of public relations many times before, and a nice editorial that simply says “hi, I am Leigh and I care about the issues,” is seldom enough anymore. We want a story, a tragedy. We want something that screams “I am relatable, but I am fractured, and this is why you should care.”

So here it goes…

My name is Leigh Bursey. I am 32 years old, a three-term municipal city councillor in Brockville, Ontario, Canada, and an educated Child and Youth Worker. I am currently studying to become an internationally recognized Chartered Housing Professional. And I am also an overly opinionated punk rocker with a big mouth, and an unconscious desire to connect with people.

I am a motivational speaker, a cable access talk show host, a recording artist and record producer, a children’s author, an aspiring quasi-professional wrestler and television actor, your new Canadian Correspondent here at Invisible People…oh yes, and a former homeless youth.

Quite the resume’ eh?! I know! Trust me when I say that being a colourful and charismatic activist offers many unique opportunities. And while personal and professional growth are obvious areas of interest for me, overcoming my own challenges is not as simple as merely saying “well that was then. It was a different time.”

No, in fact coming to terms with my own mental health, my own unique challenges, my own toxic masculinity, my own addictive tendencies, and my own ego is a constant battle of wits. At different points in my life, I have absolutely embodied everything I hated about so many people that let me down.

In my experiences, the tight rope walk has not been without a few falls. For me, there is really no way to feel both the struggles of poverty and the successful feelings of overcoming hurdles no one thought I could without being an asshole sometimes. It takes a reminder or two (or five) to get past the “cool dude” moments and get back to the moments that sometimes feel like forever ago.

My homelessness was almost incidental.

My mother was married. The situation was often toxic. We found ourselves displaced, scared, and feeling futile. This cycle repeated multiple times, and there were limited resources available to us at that time. That said, I had the advantage of a loving mother who worked hard, and a warm climate in a notoriously cold country.

It could have been worse, but it could have been avoided. In fact, homelessness often can be. Strong social networks, well-communicated support services, and a less pronounced stigma against those asking for help would have all been useful to us. In fact, to this day I have people who used to be in my life that like to question or criticize or denigrate my own experiences because mine were less visible than their own. As if their homelessness was worse than my own, which must have somehow meant mine was tolerable.

For a long time, this part of my back story was unknown to many. It was intentionally minimized. And it was the cause for great shame for those I love. How does one comfortably admit that they allowed negative or tragic things to happen to those who trusted them for care?

This is a familiar story for many. Especially in rural settings where services are already hard enough to access and identify. When someone is already feeling defeated, it’s hard enough to get them to open themselves up to criticism. Now add the barrier of a male patriarchal society that still excuses poor behaviours, and couple that with sparse populations that are disconnected from each other, and you have a recipe for futility.

Truthfully though, I got off lucky. I didn’t let my own frustrations and tragedies identify me. That said, sometimes they still rear their ugly heads.

Those that love me sometimes shake their heads at the litany of bad choices I’ve made. I have fallen prey to the same vices and anger and discouragement that I resented so much. I have given others too much power over my life, my heart and my reputation, dying so desperately to be liked or loved or needed. And I have let the wrong people in repeatedly. I would rather do that then let them drown alone.

Right now I am a young professional. And a politician with a megaphone. One talking about issues that matter to me and to those I care about.

I am making my way in the world. I am a lightning rod for social justice issues. And I am a recognized fighter for causes that often get swallowed up in economies of scale. It’s a unique paradox being one of Brockville’s “Top 40 Under 40” and a multiple-time suicide attempt survivor as well.

And that’s why I look forward to this new adventure with you. Writing about those who don’t have a podium. Dissecting policies that either help lift up those in need or further segregate them from much needed supports. Telling the stories with a cynical lens, a hopeful but cautious optimism, a personal touch, and an unapologetic attitude.

I look forward to sharing with you almost as much as I look forward to learning from you.

Sometimes, it may take me a while to put my pen to paper. I promise you when I do, I will give you my best and most honest and vulnerable self.

So why not start today?!

The cold weather has arrived in Ontario. People are hiding out in stairwells. People with roofs are choosing between eating or heating their home. Someone is getting laid off and only a paycheck or two away from getting lost in the shuffle. People are struggling and crying, wondering how to provide a successful holiday for their children by pulling a miracle out of their stockings.

And in rural communities like mine, they’re wondering how to get to a payphone, where to find wifi connections, and how to afford a cab where buses do not run.

You’ve heard these stories before but they never get easier to digest. And nor should they. Stay outraged!

And don’t worry about me. I will be just fine. As I said before, I am one of the lucky ones!


Leigh Bursey

Leigh Bursey

        

Leigh Bursey is a 35 year old resident of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada. Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Leigh spent over twenty years in Ontario, where he was a three term former municipal councillor. Leigh is an International Best-Selling Author, an award-winning singer/songwriter and recording artist, actor, painter, and community organizer/policy advocate. Leigh is the co-founder of the Brockville Streetfriends and current lead for the Mount Pearl Streetfriends outreach networks. He is an International Chartered Housing Professional, a shelter worker, and a former provincial Housing Officer. Leigh is a board member for the Canadian Housing Renewal Association and the National Alliance to End Rural and Remote Homelessness, and the LivEx Scholars With Lived Experience through Making The Shift. Leigh is a newlywed and a first-time homeowner. Leigh has lived experience with homelessness.

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