A second chance at life

by | Nov 29, 2013 | Life

By: Jessica Richard

Courtesy Carissa Muise

Courtesy Carissa Muise

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of two strangers, one young man’s life is about to change.

Matt Schneider, 21, has been living on the streets for about a year now; he began his journey in Windsor and travelled to downtown Toronto with his cousin, who was also living on the streets at the time. Over a year ago, Matt had an addiction to cocaine and was doing things he was not proud of. When he decided he wanted to get clean, his parents kicked him out because he says they were actually entangled in his substance abuse problems. Schneider has now been sober from drugs just under a year.

“It was hell going through the withdrawal, but I did it,” said Schneider.

Carissa Muise, 20, a creative photography student at Humber, was in downtown Toronto when she saw Matt with a sign that read, “How can you live in a city so large but feel so alone?” Muise said the sign first caught her off guard. She felt compelled to sit down and talk to him to try and make him feel less alone, even if just for a few moments. She bought him a hot chocolate and told him that she would come back to find him a week later.

Muise went back to the area a week later to do a photography assignment, capturing the reactions homeless people get from other people. She saw Schneider, and decided to go over and talk to him again. After talking with him for a second time, she decided his story needed to be told and changed her school assignment to a photo essay about his living conditions. She took photos of him and got his full story. The photo essay was turned into a video slideshow, which she uploaded to YouTube.  The video received over 100 views overnight.

Muise did not know a former higher-up in Humber College’s student government had watched the video. Nishanth Kakkamani, a previous member on Humber Students’ Federation board of directors for the School of Media Studies and Information Technology, was one of the many that saw the video, and it reminded him of his own tough times in the past.

“I thought I can be a helping hand for Matt to overcome this phase in his life,” Kakkamani said. He contacted Muise via email and told her that he would like to offer to pay for Schneider’s first year of tuition and student fees.

Kakkamani remembers his dad always telling him, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” He believes that studying and making a career is the best way for Schneider to remain clean and be able to help himself.

Schneider said that it is hard for him to explain exactly what it is like being on the streets.“Sometimes it can be a horrible experience, other times it can be one hell of a ride,” said Schneider. “It becomes like a lifestyle, you want to get out but you just can’t.”

Schneider has met a lot of different people since living on the streets. When he was in Windsor, he met his best friend who was also withdrawing from drugs. The pair was able to help each other. He met an artist named Warren who puts graffiti of sayings on chunks of wood as his panning signs.

Schneider has met a group of street kids called ‘squeegee kids,’ because they stand on the corners squeegee-ing peoples cars to make money. He also has a street family of four other people and two dogs; they all look out for each other.

Schneider has jumped from different shelters, because it was too dangerous for him to stay situated. He has stayed at an old church-turned into a shelter in Windsor. When he received his personal needs allowance, another man at the shelter attacked him with a knife. Schneider ended up getting stabbed in the chest area and it punctured his lung. He now only has one and a half lungs.

“After that, I didn’t want to be somewhere where there were people that were willing to do something like that just for a few dollars,” he said.

He has also gotten severe food poisoning from soup kitchens and is now afraid to go to them. Schneider said he has received kindness from strangers before, but sometimes they are only doing it to make themselves feel better. Schneider said there are some genuine people out in the world.

“Me and my buddy came across this guy that wanted to do a good deed so he told us that if there was anything we needed he would buy it for us,” said Schneider. “He ended up spending over a grand on clothes and food for us. All that money hardly put a dent in his wallet.”

Schneider would like to take the visual and digital arts program next fall, as he loves to draw and would like to have a career doing something with art. He never thought he would have the chance to go to college.

“It wasn’t even like she (Muise) opened a door for me, it was like she kicked down the wall!” he exclaimed.

Schneider is extremely excited about going to college and said he is probably going to be one of the only street kids out there.

“Ha! I’m going to college, I made it! With help, but I made it! I get to make something constructive of myself,” said Schneider.

Kakkamani said that there are some stipulations that go with him paying for Schneider’s tuition:

It will only be paid as fees to the college directly, not as cash to Schneider, and if he drops out of the program before the fees refund date, the money would be transferred to the school as a scholarship for someone else. Lastly, the second semester fees will only be paid if Schneider maintains a reasonable GPA and attendance record. Schneider also has to agree to remain clean of drugs.

View the original photo essay below.