What strikes me as intriguing about Ruhan Rahman is his easygoing persona. With his ever-present smile and natural ability to carry a conversation, Rahman seems like the last person in my philosophy class that I would have expected to face the daunting prospect of homelessness.
He begins his story as we eat lunch at TFC. The buzzing of conversations around me seems to subside as I listen, transfixed, to Rahman’s experiences of couchsurfing, home life, and educational pursuits.
Discord had always been brewing in Rahman’s home. It was in October 2011—during the middle of his second year at UTM—that tensions between him and his parents had peaked. During that month, he was kicked out and began the first of what would be a series of temporary stays at his friends’ houses.
By November that same year, Rahman returned home. However, his parents were frustrated with his lifestyle of “going out” and visiting friends and laid down a strict “22-point contract”. Rahman was at this point 19 years old and felt oppressed by the contract, which he believed gave him “no freedom or privacy”.
In the following six months, Rahman adjusted his school and work schedule in order to spend as little time as possible at home, hoping to avoid his parents.
The peace was short-lived.
The storm came suddenly and unexpectedly during the Easter long weekend. When Rahman came home in the early hours of the morning, he was confronted by his mother and, once again, forcibly evicted from his home.
He spent the first night at a friend’s apartment near Square One.
“The next day, I had to break into my own house when my parents weren’t home, and I just took a couple of bags, stuffed them with a lot of clothes [and possessions], and took that to my friend’s apartment,” says Rahman coolly.
Rahman dropped out of UTM in the summer of 2012. He says that he was unsure of his future and undecided about making a return to university amidst his more pressing concerns of finding a place to stay.
His friend’s lease at Square One soon ended and Rahman, unable to find substitute housing, illegally squatted in the apartment for two weeks until the superintendent found him. The superintendent threatened to call law enforcement, but Rahman left before any trouble could materialize.
His next brief stay was with a friend who lived near Eglinton. He used the family’s spare room for a month, until his friend’s father asked him to leave.
As a last recourse, Rahman found refuge in a Meadowvale apartment, where he was the fifth roommate in a three-bedroom housing compound. Once again, time started to tick for Rahman as the end of his one-month contract approached and his rent increased with every week.
At that point, Rahman says he encountered a “stroke of luck” when a more permanent housing alternative came to him in August 2012, and he was able to secure a rental agreement in the basement of a friend’s relative in Streetsville.
“It was either [living in that basement in Streetsville] or going to a shelter or youth place,” Rahman says.
During his housing struggle, Rahman worked 18 or more hours per week at a small café shop in Meadowvale to support himself financially. Despite being grateful for the opportunity to work, he wistfully recounts the sacrifice involved, saying that he had no leisure time and “slaved away” while most of his peers were engaging in social activities.
His story took on a brighter turn in January 2013, when Rahman decided to return to UTM after realizing that it would be a “massive waste” to leave his education unfinished.
“I personally believe in finishing what I start […] Being an educated individual is important to me,” says Rahman.
Now in his fifth year at UTM, Rahman is set to graduate with the Class of 2016, finishing his studies as an English major with a double minor in philosophy and the history of religions.
“Don’t expect your life to resemble others,” Rahman says when asked to reflect upon his experiences. “There is no set way your life is supposed to go. Do what you have to do in order to get what you need, and focus on yourself before anyone else. It’s not a bad thing to trust other people, but I’ve learned that you have to rely solely on yourself. You have to be your own foundation and source of power—never depend on anyone or anything.”