Hiking along Taylor Creek, volunteers with Street to Trail were explaining how the group helps the homeless in Toronto when a rustling sound interrupted.
The five hikers go quiet. Camera phones pop out. Just off the trail, a family of deer senses the attention and quits their munching. Silently, they climb higher up the ravine and disappear behind a screen of maple trees.
It’s the wild mustard greens, says hiker Terry Terron. Deer love them.
Deer encounters may be rare in Toronto, but Terron seems in his element. He joins dozens of hikes, canoe trips, even -40˚C snowshoe treks for Street to Trail every year.
Founded in 2000 by Paul Mackle, a former Bruce Trail director and long-time volunteer at Toronto shelters, Street to Trail gives adults who live on the street a chance to get out – way out – into the wild.
“You get out onto the trail and it gives people time to think, to clear their heads,” said Terron. “It gives you a break from whatever may be keeping you down in the city.”
For many, he said, the downers include drug or alcohol abuse. But Street to Trail trips start with an early Saturday breakfast, and people usually get a sober night the day before, plus one more on the returning day when they need to sleep off a solid day of hiking or paddling outside.
Terron knows what he’s talking about. Eight years ago, he himself was living out of a backpack.
“I was in a really bad spot at the time,” he said. “My ex and I had split up, and she ended up with my son. I lost my job and then I lost my apartment—it was just a snowball type effect.”
When Mackle first saw him at a drop-in and asked him to come for a hike, Terron stuck out as an outdoors guy.
Unlike most, when Terron slept outside he carried not just a blanket but an army pack full of camping gear, and often pitched a tent by the Don River.
In other ways, Terron was just like most people living on Toronto streets – he felt that anything beats a shelter.
“I’ve stayed in drop-ins where I woke up halfway through the night because someone was trying to steal the shoes that I was wearing,” he said. “People get beat up all the time. They’re terrible.”
Today, Terron is housed. So are all his bandmates in NFA – No Fixed Address – a band that started when all three members were homeless.
Bassist Jason Banks, who started leading hikes this season, says they play everything from Johnny Cash to hard-core punk. A few weeks ago, they shared the stage at Rosedale United Church with a bunch of tents and canoes at a Street to Trail benefit.
For them, Street to Trail was part of the process of leaving a life that meant getting constantly hounded out of libraries and back alleys, and hitch-hiking to a warmer city every winter.
Along the Bruce Trail, passing through old-growth and under cliffs with rock layers millions of years old, Terrence said his problems in the city seemed a bit smaller, easier to manage.
“People need that break,” he said.
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.street-to-trail.org.