Many years separate me from the street. But I can still feel the street inside of me.
My street odyssey began when I was 14. The streets of Sherbrooke, Granby, Montréal, and Toronto… Hungry for freedom, or just haunted by a world that didn’t understand me, the mean streets became my home, my way of life.
Caroline Leblanc | File Itinerance
I experienced many adventures during my street years. And misadventures, too. But like they say, there is no good road or bad road. Every road teaches you something, enriches you with the experiences you live during your journey. No matter what your destination, it’s the journey that really counts!
I could tell you about some of those destinations, like my turbulent childhood; my confused, misunderstood teenage years; my unhealthy friendships and love affairs, or just the very world that is the street. But I’d rather share with you how it all changed the course of my life.
There are times you get the impression you’re chasing after happiness each day of your life. But on the street, you’re doing that every single second of your existence.
But at one single instant, one turning point, happiness came to me in the form of an extraordinary creature who I named, “Draft.” A female dog who stayed by my side through all the hurricanes, the tiny storms, and the calm skies of my street life. She was there through good and bad. She was always there, never judging, showing love, accepting me as nobody else ever did or could. Forever etched in my memory, this magnificent soul helped me conquer my sorrows and my problems. Draft gave me the strength and the confidence for me to love myself.
You may ask yourself, why am I telling you all this? My street days were days I shared with Draft. Through many setbacks and sufferings, across many worlds, she was there to take care of me. She never let me go. Rich of heart, her unconditional love gave me the strength and the drive to face society’s views concerning those of us who choose to live off the grid, on the street. For some people, she may always be just a dog. But for me, she was the force of nature that powered me to lift my head out of the water and find my place.
One day, out of respect for Draft, tired of the wandering life, I decided to get an apartment and go to university. With only secondary 3 credits in my pocket but a PhD worth of experience from the school of hard knocks, I was bound and determined to enroll in university courses. You may say, what a crazy idea. But for me, I decided it was the only way I would end up being heard, and give back to the street life all it had made of me: a strong, independent woman ready to fight society’s injustices.
Father Pops, renowned for his work with the homeless, always believed in me. He helped me get a bursary. But after a wonderful, successful year, I dropped out. At that point I decided that university wasn’t really necessary. It was only when I had my daughter that I returned to school full time and gave it 100%.
Draft is no longer with us. But she remains engraved upon my heart. For her, I continue to climb mountains on the way to reaching my ultimate goal: to improve conditions for the homeless and their pets. I recently completed my master’s degree in social work. My thesis deals with the effect of pets on the lives of the homeless. Who’d have thought it possible?
In honor of my odyssey, I’ve founded a non-profit organization (Solidarité dans la rue) dedicated to raising awareness of all the different ways that animals can help those living on the margins of society. For the last 3 years I’ve spent my Christmases on the street to bring my support and understanding to those without a roof over their heads – and their animals. The first 2 years, I did this in Montréal. But last year, I helped out on the streets of Sherbrooke – in honor of my own personal street odyssey.
Solidarité dans la rue
Caroline Leblanc is the founder and director-general of this organization. Today, she’s beginning her Ph.D. in social word.