Nathan Harris just moved to Bradford this year and recently gave away his old car to a family in need.
The 20-year-old, originally from Toronto, just recently got back on his feet after experiencing homelessness.
He was raised by his single mother alongside his older sister. The siblings were very close growing up.
Harris and his sister moved several times across Canada when they were little, living in Alberta and Saskatchewan with their mother, until the siblings moved back to Ontario to live with their father.
Unfortunately, their return was met with struggles and by the time Harris was 14, the siblings were removed from their home and placed in the foster care system.
At 16, Harris signed out of the foster care system and became his own legal guardian.
He moved into his grandmother’s basement (where his father also resided) and gained employment working at a local Canadian Tire.
Just when things were starting to look up for Harris, he began experiencing back pain while at work and ultimately had to leave his job. Doctors eventually diagnosed him with Scoliosis and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).
“It's being in pain all the time, your nervous system doesn’t know what’s normal or how to feel properly. The nerves are confused on how to respond,” explains Harris. “I was sitting in a wheelchair because it was easier to get around for a good year.”
Harris became very depressed. Focusing on the pain only made things worse; so, he decided to make the best of the situation and changed his mindset.
“I dove headfirst into meditation and mind development,” he explains. “If you re-enact something many times in your head first, from my experience, it brings it to reality.”
Slowly, Harris regained control of his limbs and strengthened his back, and after a brief move out West for additional support from his mother, he eventually moved back to Ontario to live with his grandma again in 2019.
Harris found a room for rent just a few streets down from his grandmother’s house, but in less than a year, but wound up back in her basement. Unfortunately, conflict ensued in the home causing Harris to leave and becoming officially homeless.
“It was actually kind of nice,” recalls Harris. “It was a good time to reflect on things that have happened in my life.”
Harris sought help from an agency in Richmond Hill called 360° Kids which provides support through programs and temporary housing for homeless and at-risk youth. Harris had previously accessed some of their employment support in the past.
After three months, he transferred to the Sutton Youth Shelter with the Salvation Army where he remained until January of 2021.
“You can only stay for so long, but I had not found a place yet,” explains Harris. “I picked up a security job and small side jobs, but never enough to find my own place – I needed more time for first and last.”
That same month, Harris attained a Subaru vehicle through his grandfather and finally found employment again. He was excited to start a new job with hopes of getting himself out of the shelter system, but as Harris’ luck would have it, he was in a serious car accident on his way home that day.
“It was the middle of winter… I caught a snowdrift on a 70 kilometre an hour road and I went off the road and flipped – end-over-end – I had broken C7 in my neck," he said.
The car was destroyed and Harris wound up at the hospital where he was placed in a neck brace.
“I was putting in all this effort to improve my life and just kept getting hit, more and more,” laments Harris. “I’m so lucky I didn’t die or suffer any paralysis from it.”
Harris returned to the Sutton shelter unable to stand or walk. Staff at the shelter helped him recover and for this, he is forever grateful.
“I was helpless and homeless. I couldn’t do anything to physically take care of myself. I could barely get up to go to the washroom,” he recalls. “They took such good care of me. They brought me blankets… they brought me my food, everything. They were just amazing. They did so much!”
After much healing, Harris once again pushed through his pain and focused on the end goal: to get out of the shelter and find employment and a place to finally call home.
In mid-January, Harris found an ad online for a job opportunity with Bradford-based company DB Renovations (Double Bevel). Owner, Gavin Fung took the young apprentice on and taught him everything he knew about the industry - framing, drywall, mudding and taping, painting, finished carpentry, doors, back tiling, carpeting, baseboards, and more.
“He’s an amazing boss and treats his employees extremely well!” he shares about Fung. “I would label him as a ‘go-giver' not a ‘go-getter’… he’s very humble.”
Harris saved up some money from his first few paychecks and donated funds back to the Sutton shelter to show his appreciation for all their help and support. He also continued to support the shelter by offering funds for different programs such as their art program and BBQs.
“I feel like I would have given up without them,” he expresses, adding he gave a card to staff at the shelter before leaving.
Harris wanted to be close to his new job, so he found a place for rent in Bradford, but also needed a vehicle for his work. So, with some financial help from his grandfather, Harris picked up a Honda Civic and drove it all summer until September when he purchased a 2008 GMC Yukon.
“I posted the Honda Civic for free on any Bradford groups I was aware of and I had a lot of responses,” he says. “It was a very tough position I was in, trying to decide who to give the Honda Civic away to.”
Harris shares many people offered their stories on why they needed the car, but he wanted to ensure whoever received the free wheels could afford to keep it.
“I wanted to make sure this car was going to the right person,” he explained.
Harris eventually selected a co-worker who was struggling to get to work each day but also required a vehicle to get his child to school safely.
“I knew his story was authentic and I feel kind of bad I overlooked him at first, but in the long run, it’s already helping him a lot,” he says. “There are little things that need to be fixed, it was an old car… but he was very, very grateful.”
Since then, Harris has launched his own business called “Rising Star Investment Corporation” and a side business called “Rising Start Contracting” while continuing to sub-contract work through DB Renovations where Fung still mentors him today.
His long-term goals include building sustainable charities where donations are not required and hopes to become a mentor for youth at the Sutton shelter which forever changed his life.
“Landing in the shelter system was the best thing that could have happened for me,” he shares. “It connected me with so many resources. For a lot of people, it’s a pride thing; they don’t want to go in the shelter because they don’t want to have to say, ‘I’m homeless, I live in a shelter’, but once you admit to yourself that things didn’t work out and you’re willing to change it, that’s when things can get better for you rather than keeping in denial – they are there to help you gain your independence and get back to a normal life.”