“I was kidnapped for six years. Yeah, it was on the news,” Trena (not her real name) told my dad and I as I photographed her at the corner of Queen St. E. and Victoria St. in Toronto. Incredibly, her parents did not call the police. “Why didn’t your parents report you as missing?” my dad asked her. “They were poor, and it was hard enough to take care of the other two brothers and sisters I had. So, I understand them. I forgive them,” she said.
Trena then told us about the harrowing experiences she has had on the street. “I’ve been raped and beaten here. I’ve been stabbed a million times. Cops don’t care. The cops watch me get beaten. They don’t care for us. A lot of poor people get beaten all the time. [The cops will] sit there and laugh.” After saying this, Trena started to cry. “Sorry! It’s a bit touchy… I was raped by cops [when] I was fifteen. So, I know what it’s like… Um, [the cops] they beat you all the time. If you don’t have drugs, they just take your money. Down here they think you’re no good or nothing, you know?”
Speaking of other people experiencing homelessness, she said, “You get a lot of good ones [and] a lot of bad ones around here… And I know who to keep away from me. But they’re not bad. It’s just the way they were brought up. Like, their parents were drug dealers. That’s what they know. That’s all they know. They don’t know any different.”
“I didn’t have parents,” Trena told us. “I raised myself. My parents were [drug dealers]. [A lady] took me in and tried to make me go to school. But it was already too late after being raped and… being given drugs and tortured. It’s not fun. You know what I mean? I didn’t have a choice.”
“It sounds like you’ve got a good attitude despite everything,” my dad told Trena. With a look of determination, Trena said, “I’ve got to. I’ve gotta stay strong. I’ve been through a lot.”
Nowhere to Call Home
is a book that teaches to see reality through other eyes.
The eyes of those who are alone, of those who feel defeated, denigrated, violated, killed.
But they are also the eyes of those who struggle every day to survive,
to live a life that is not theirs,
a life that they would not have chosen.
Their story, mine, yours…
After the photo shoot was over and my dad told Charlie that he appreciated him sharing his story, he replied,
“It’s not just my story. It’s everybody’s story!”
Leah den Bok is a Fashion, Beauty and Portrait Photographer. For the past six years, she has been traveling to cities throughout the world, such as Toronto, New York, Washington D.C., and Brisbane, photographing people experiencing homelessness and recording their stories.
In the summer of 2017, CBC’s ‘The National’ aired a documentary about Leah’s photography and stories of people experiencing homelessness. Since then, her work has attracted worldwide attention. She has been interviewed by such media outlets as the BBC, CBS, CTV, the Toronto Star, Vogue Italia, Toronto Life, Chatelaine, and the Corriere Della Sera in Italy.
Leah attended, by invitation, ARTWALK NY 2017 and the Women of the World 2018 festival in Brisbane, Australia, where she exhibited and spoke. In 2017 she was invited to speak, along with Prince Harry and Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General to the U.N., at the Air Canada Centre for the WE Day and WE Family events where she addressed 40,000 people. She has been a keynote speaker at the annual She Talks events in Cambridge and Muskoka.
Leah has won several awards, including the IDRF Youth Impact Award 2018, Murray Clerkson Award 2019, SNAP Photo Competition 2020, and the Ascend Rising Star of the Year Award 2020.