Editor’s Note: This is the final profile in Stories from the Street Series II about the unique circumstances of the men and women living rough in Sarnia. Look for a Stories from the Street photo essay by Glenn Ogilvie to be published online Sunday.
Isaiah Joseph shoulders a lot of the blame for his desperate circumstances.
And he hates being what he calls “a statistic.” He’s aboriginal and has a serious drinking problem. He hates feeding a stereotype.
“I honestly have no idea how to get out of this mess,” he says, stopping to talk as he leaves a drop-in centre for the homeless on Exmouth Street. His eyes are clear. He speaks thoughtfully. There’s an overwhelming sense that he can’t quite believe he’s living on the streets.
Isaiah is 25 and grew up in Sarnia. He was suspended for smoking pot in Grade 11 and dropped out of high school until deciding to earn his high school equivalency as an adult at Lambton College.
There was a time when he really tried to achieve something.
He had a full time job in Rodney at a warehouse and drove there every day in a car loaned by a relative. He lived with his aunt in Sarnia and was hoping to take a culinary course at the college. But he never really got along with his aunt, he says. One day, she kicked him out.
So he lived in his car for a while, until it had mechanical problems. And then he lost his job because he couldn’t get there.
“It all went downhill from there,” he said. “If I can’t find a friend or relative to give me a bed, I sleep in a gazebo or a pavilion or the front of a bank where it’s heated.”
Last winter, police found Isaiah suffering from frostbite. The tips of his fingers were purple and his feet were numb. They took him to the ER.
Part of the problem is his binge drinking, he said. And since living mostly on the street since 2018, he’s developed a “weekend” habit of using numerous drugs as well.
He’s on methadone now, trying to stay away from opioids.
“I talk with my (Ontario Works) worker about getting a job and finding a place to live,” he says. “No where’s affordable but I need something.”
River City Vineyard’s shelter has been a regular support for him, however, this summer the rules changed there and Isaiah says he can’t go back.
Clean drug test results are now required each night at River City before shelter residents can get a bed.
“So I’m not going to even try to get in there,” he said. “It’s disheartening. There are a lot of regulars who get turned away.
“A lot of good people are being told they can’t go there anymore.”
He picks up his backpack and says it was good to talk. “Thanks, I’ll see you around,” he says, then disappears around the corner, a lonely soul unsure of everything.
Editor’s Note: Three months after his interview with The Journal, Isaiah was arrested in mid-November by Sarnia Police and charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, and unauthorized possession of a prohibited weapon.
STORIES FROM THE STREET will be featured in a special exhibition opening Dec. 1 in the Turret Room at the Lawrence House Centre For The Arts. We hope you take the time to experience this free gallery exhibit of photos and stories on display Dec. 1 - 29.