Homeless to Hero: Glenn’s story
Glenn received help from numerous programs delivered by both United Way and The Hope Centre after spiraling into a deep depression when his wife passed away suddenly. Although he had retired from a long career at the Niagara Region, he found himself homeless, hopeless and alone. He made his way through counseling, off the streets and into transitional housing. It was here that he was inspired to make real change.
He spent five months in the psychiatric ward at a local hospital where he was wrongly medicated and released into transitional housing. That first week out, he suffered four cardiac arrests. Early, one freezing March morning, he was released once more, wearing nothing but paper slippers and a hospital gown. He was infuriated. Homeless people should not be treated this way. Having had enough, this was a turning point for Glenn.
He began looking for ways to make changes to a broken system and found HEART (Health and Equity through Advocacy, Research & Theatre). He immediately got involved, sitting on the committee since day one. In fact, the first theatre production was based on Glenn’s experience. HEART is used as a teaching tool for first-year medical students, teaching empathy in dealing with homeless patients. Glenn was invited to McMaster University to speak to medical students, explaining the importance of equity in patient care. The program has since expanded and Glenn will be speaking to nursing students at Niagara College Canada this year. He is the first non-medical/professional to be invited to speak at either institution.
“If I can make a difference in just one person’s life, I’ve done my part,” said Glenn. He has done more than that. He recently attained certification to become a peer support worker (PSW) through a pilot program scheduled to start this summer at the Niagara Falls’ hospital. “I will advocate and be the voice of those who don’t have one,” explained Glenn. Through a grant from United Way, this program will allow a PSW to be on-site in the hospital to help homeless or vulnerable patients navigate the system. The program is designed to help give a voice to those who have gone unheard. Homeless patients entering the emergency department will be given the opportunity to have an advocate with them through the process, helping with referrals after their release and ultimately creating a system where all patients will get the follow up and care they need and deserve.
In addition to Glenn’s work with HEART and the peer support program, he runs support groups for men who have been sexually abused - something he knows about all too well. He speaks in front of groups of all shapes and sizes and still has time to take calls in the middle of the night for friends in crisis. “Being able to share my story of struggle is helping people do the same,” he says. “Talking about it is very helpful. It makes others trust you and open up to you.” In one such talk at a local workplace, an employee approached Glenn afterwards and asked if he would speak to his teenaged daughter. “Of course I agreed and I was actually able to help stop her from taking her own life,” he shared. “She just needed to be heard; to be understood.”
Glenn is a hero in the eyes of the man he pulled from a hotel room surrounded by empty bottles. He is a hero in the eyes of that father whose daughter is still alive. He is a hero to the woman who can feed her children and to the woman who no longer relies on prostituting herself on the street. He is a hero to the man whose apartment was full of pills and the man who he met at Tim Horton’s at 2 a.m. Glenn Norton is a hero to many. He works every day to make it easier for others who are struggling to make it through.