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Homeless Toronto busker who can't get permit relying on TikTok revenue

Being homeless in Toronto is difficult. Without shelter you're on the streets and in the transit systems. Patrick, a traveling busker from Bathurst, New Brunswick, knows about these experiences firsthand.

Patrick came to Toronto on Christmas Day to set up for the winter. He says, “Toronto has tons of warm places to sleep and more opportunities for me.”

Busking is important work for many facing the difficult task of generating income in the megacity, but Toronto has plenty of rules about who can busk, and where.

Patrick explains that “You’re not allowed to busk anywhere right now. If you want to busk on the TTC or anywhere in the city you need a permit.” Without a permit from the city, you risk getting in trouble wherever and whenever you busk.

Since COVID hit, busking approval steps have been limited, and many  have no chance of auditioning for a permit. Patrick says, "It's nearly impossible to busk throughout the winter months, busking inside the transit system gets shut down as soon as it's noticed."

But that isn’t the only option for buskers now.

“When I go busking if I can get onto WiFi, I will go live on TikTok and every now and then I’ll be like, 'Hey guys if you want to donate my bio has my email address.' Sometimes I just stay in a corner and busk strictly for TikTok. Honestly TikTok is my best earner.”

Patrick arrived in Toronto with a social media following of just over a 100 and within two weeks he had gained 7,000 new followers. He did this through posting videos of his daily life, playing music and doing live busking sessions on TikTok.

He says, “I’ve tried Instagram, Facebook and YouTube but TikTok just seemed to like me. If you want to go big on TikTok post vulnerable videos. People want to see the real you. A lot of people don’t get to see what it’s like to be homeless, a lot of people won’t make videos about being homeless, they don’t want the public to know they’re homeless.”

Being open and vulnerable for the world to watch has brought Patrick an array of reactions and responses. Some people think he’s overexaggerating his situation because he uses social media and has a cell phone. But that's far from the case.

Patrick clarifies that “Having a phone is a lifeline and being homeless you need a phone. How could I look for work, find shelters and everything else? I haven’t found any computer cafes. I’ve only found the Toronto Public Library. If it wasn’t for my phone, I wouldn’t know where the library is even!”

Patrick is constantly searching for work and taking steps forward in his life. He is finding new ways to earn money doing what he loves. He says, “If you go busking and you’re hoping for money, you’re going to be disappointed. If you try too hard people seem to know. If you just have fun with it, people are going to say, man I’ve been watching you jam, here’s a couple dollars.”

Follow Patrick’s story at @pmrmusic92 on TikTok and stay tuned for more of his live busking sessions.

Lead photo by

Harrison Haines

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