Carl Tebo used to live under the Gardiner Expressway, and in the middle of winter, he used cardboard boxes, a sleeping bag and heat from a grate to stay warm.
While battling a mental illness, he said he also had to battle the misconceptions of others.
"Somebody's judging me thinking, 'Oh, there's a derelict or a hobo,'" he said. "I have a serious mental health issue. I'm there because I don't know where else to go."
To fight misconceptions about Toronto's homeless, the City of Toronto and the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness (TAEH) launched a public awareness campaign Monday morning. They're aiming to debunk the myths around homelessness and homeless people, specifically men, who make up 85 percent of the homeless population.
The campaign is the third instalment of the Toronto For All campaign, which aims to end all forms of discrimination and racism.
Kira Heineck, project lead of the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness, said many people don't realize how prevalent homelessness is. On average, about 4,434 men, women and children have used the emergency shelter system each night this year.
"We know that there's many, many reasons [for homelessness] that include job loss ... the fact that it is very difficult right now to afford a good home or an apartment on a low income in the city," she said. "There's also illness. One of the main causes for homelessness in Toronto right now is family breakdown."
'I need those shelters built somewhere else'
The campaign also aligns with the city's efforts to start a dialogue on four new shelters planned for 2017 in anticipation of the eventual demolition of Seaton House, a large men's shelter downtown. The shelters will likely push beyond the downtown core, Heinick said, where most of the city's shelters have historically been built.
"That has forced people to move from their own natural communities and neighbourhoods," she said. "Now the time has come ... to look at a better model that supports people in the communities where they actually are."
Advertisements for the campaign challenge the concept of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) when it comes to homeless shelters, where people might support the idea of a homeless shelter, but don't want one built near their home. The ads will be posted on transit, online and on social media.
"People think those that are homeless are more likely to commit crime or to be a negative part of their community. We don't have any evidence that backs that up," Heineck said. "Often when we don't know enough about something or a set of people, we tend to be a little wary. I think that's human nature."
The city plans to host discussions on the expansion of the emergency shelter system, including on where the shelters will be built and how they'll function.
"We're challenging people to learn more," Heineck said.
For Tebo, who has been off the streets for almost two and a half years, an important element of the acceptance of a shelter, for residents and for the homeless community, will be design.
"If you build a nice shelter, you're going to get nice residents. If they're going home to a dungeon ... I wouldn't care," he said.
Good food, ample staff and a bed with clean sheets can make all of the difference, he said.
"That's inspiring for a homeless person. That changes your own self-image, your own self-esteem."
If you'd like to add your voice to the discussion, visit torontoforall.ca.