By Kim Zarzour YorkRegion.com
Author Jesse Thistle appears on Blue Door’s inaugural podcast.
“I’m just glad to be alive. I wasn’t supposed to make it this far.”
With those powerful words, Jesse Thistle — hustler and crackhead, professor and author — launched a new podcast this week, Out of the Blue, created by York Region’s Blue Door.
The free, weekly audio show promises a weekly deep dive into a complicated topic.
“We’ll look at all things homelessness and housing, all the great stuff happening across the country and the gaps that exist, too,” says Michael Braithwaite, Blue Door’s CEO and creator of the groundbreaking new series.
In the inaugural podcast, available Oct. 10, Thistle shares a heartbreaking and inspiring story of life on the streets.
A Métis-Cree from northern Saskatchewan, Thistle wrote about his journey through addiction, homelessness and redemption in his bestselling memoir, “From the Ashes.”
Now an assistant professor at York University, he says he could have died “many times over — but I’m a survivor.”
Thistle says his family fell apart when he was four and he was taken from his Cree community to be raised in Brampton with his white grandparents. He was bullied because he was Indigenous and learned to hide his heritage, pretending he was Italian.
Abandoned, damaged by a father with addiction issues, Thistle lost himself in drugs and stayed alive through lying and stealing. He learned to play the system when he had nowhere to go.
“For me, going to jail was a positive thing. I knew I could get my teeth fixed, I could get my education there.”
He describes one strategy: smashing a window, then waiting to be picked up by police and taken to the “bullpen” — a nice warm space to stay for the night.
Thistle said he had to hustle or die: “No one works harder than a crackhead looking for their fix.”
Those skills of survival and adaption, along with love and healed relationships, helped him, finally, return to school and earn his PhD.
But street drugs today are far more dangerous; many of those Thistle knew are now dead.
“I don’t know if even my street smarts would have kept me alive in this modern climate,” he said. “It’s pretty intense for those who are out there today.”
Braithwaite hopes Thistle’s story – and others who appear on the show – will help York Region residents understand the roots and struggles of the homeless, who are largely hidden in our affluent communities.
Each year, 1,300 people from babies to seniors stay in one of Blue Door’s three emergency housing locations. A 2015 report found a disproportionate amount of homeless people in the region are male, aged 16 to 24 and of Indigenous ancestry.
The podcast will feature more guests who have lived experience, as well as those who have done groundbreaking research on housing and homelessness, from Tiny Houses to how climate change will impact housing.
“We’ll have a mixed of lived experts, innovators, educators and other professionals weekly on the show, while all the while showing the country that Blue Door and the Region of York are doing innovative and game-changing work to prevent and end homelessness,” Braithwaite said.
“As Canadians, we really, really want to help but don’t really understand the issues,..Homelessness is not about a look; it’s about a feeling of isolation, a feeling of loneliness, of desperation.”
You can listen and subscribe to Out of the Blue anywhere you catch podcasts and on YouTube.