What do you think about when you hear about homelessness? Junkies? Dropouts? Who can blame you? My viewpoint of homeless people was a similar one at one point. No way would I end up homeless. I’m a post grad with a qualifications in criminology and criminal justice. I had worked hard.
I became homeless last October. My story is one which I hope no-one else never needs to go through.
I married my Canadian wife in February 2016. I sold up everything in my home country of the UK and moved to Nova Scotia permenantly last May. I was blissfully happy with my soul mate, the love of my life. We were excited about what the future held. We applied for my spousal visa and work permit, knowing it would take around 3 months for my work visa to be granted.
In June 2016 my wife suddenly and tragically died. I was hospitalized in a foreign city, in a foreign country, on a foreign continent. Within days I was diagnosed with severe PTSD relating to my wife’s death. I have been left with nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and panic attacks. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do, and being stuck in hospital left me unable to contact any services in Nova Scotia to get me through this awful time.
Within days of my wife’s death, her daughters, who had not seen her in months swooped in. They closed her bank account, which I had put a substantial amount of money in, to cover life while I could not work. I never saw a penny of that money. They cancelled the lease on our apartment, which was in her name; not that I could either go back there without my precious wife, or afford the rent on my own. They took my wife’s car. They put our property in storage after hand picking what they wanted, including wedding gifts, and left me with a bill of $138 a month to ensure I didn’t lose the little I had left in life. At that time I was too sick to be able to do anything about it. By the time I was well enough to deal with it, it was too late.
I had enough money in my UK bank account to pay rent on a room over the summer, and made friends with the neighbours who I consider my “Halifam”. These amazing friends ensured I ate, slept, and didn’t isolate myself. They literally saved my life. I love them.
When the lease was up I was in deep trouble. My spousal visa had been rejected as my wife had died, and along with that my work permit was refused. My application for a visa was automatically changed to a Humanitarian and Compassionate visa, which I’m still waiting to hear progress on. As a non-Canadian I was ineligible for Income Assistance or even an MSI (medical) card. I was in a no win situation. I was homeless.
I didn’t know where to turn. I did what we do in this age of technology and googled “women’s homeless shelters” and picked up the phone. The first shelter was unable to accommodate me as I don’t qualify for income assistance. But they gave me a bed on a sofa for as long as it took to get a bed in the emergency shelter. That was one night. The next morning, with massive trepidation I arrived at the emergency shelter.
I didn’t know what to expect. My head was filled with images of crack addicts, working girls and those recently released from jail. Those women do exist, however I learned very quickly that all these women have long, complicated and often heartbreaking stories. Many have lived through abuse, neglect, violence, coercion and exploitation. All the women I’ve met have lived with poverty. Many have acted in ways that makes them feel ashamed. Self confidence and self belief is something that doesn’t run high in a homeless shelter. Each women is living her own nightmare when they arrive at the shelter.
Thank god for the staff! These women who work at the shelter seem to have endless patience, a high tolerance for verbal abuse and most importantly a wicked sense of humour. Their compassionate and caring natures have been a bright light in the darkness that came into my life last year. Without the staff I would not be here now. They have arranged support and grief counselling for me. They found a family doctor who would sign me up. They have sat with me while I have sobbed, they have cried with me. Their jobs are stressful, and at times they act as referees when tempers flair with the residents of the shelter. I hate seeing them being abused by residents, it angers me to see these women shouted and sworn at when they are just doing their jobs.
The shelter is a complicated place. With up to 20 women at a time living there, each with their own trauma to deal with, clashes of personality happen often. I’ve seen verbal and physical altercations happen between the residents for reasons that seem trivial at the time, but that have hurt the people involved. Friendships often form though. Without a friendly face or words of encouragement life would definitely be much harder. We often laugh, we talk, we cry, we support each other. We care about each other.
The shelter runs a “harm reduction policy” which means that a woman won’t be turned away from the shelter if she is drunk or high, as long as they can follow staff instructions and make it to their bedspace. Women with substance abuse problems of some kind are common place. Many are trying to numb the pain of their past life and their current situation. However, as drugs and alcohol often do, some of the residents come into the shelter displaying behaviour that can upset and further traumatize other residents. It’s hard to empathize with another person when your life feels so out of control and horrific.
I find the shelter a distressing place to be at times, to the point that I leave and sofa surf with friends. The noise in the shelter, the tension, the prevailing feeling of sadness and hopelessness, the clashes of personality affect me. When it becomes too much I leave.
At this moment in time I can’t get my own home. I don’t qualify for any help from Community Services to pay rent. Until my immigration is finalized I am stuck being homeless. This is a situation that depresses me, and I struggle with the reality of knowing that for the foreseeable future I have no home of my own.
I’ve become used to operating without money. Friends have helped me financially to keep my possessions in storage, until a friend moved from the shelter into her own place. It made sense to me to remove that $138 a month storage charge, and let her use the furniture I have. I’m grateful to know that she can use it until I am able to get my own home.
With no money, I can’t pay for things in life that most people take for granted. Go for a Timmy’s? Nope. Hop on a bus? Nope. Buy personal items? Nope. I’ve had to accept that these things are things I need to do without. I can’t afford to pay for my medications and rely on local charitable organizations to help with those costs. I’ve lost around 70-80 pounds in weight since my wife’s death, and can’t afford to buy new clothes. I rely on donations to clothe myself.
Pride is something that goes out of the window when you are homeless. Pride will stop you from getting a bed for the night, or a warm meal. Pride will stop you from getting a warm jacket. It’s something I struggle with at times. Knowing that the things I need have to be donated to me often leaves me feeling inadequate and useless. I’m not allowed to work for money and so I’ve had to swallow my pride to ensure I can survive. Accepting charity from others is a difficult thing to do, but sometimes it’s all we can do.
I arrived at the shelter over 7 months ago. I don’t have a light at the end of my tunnel at the moment. I don’t know when or if my visa will be granted. I don’t know how long I’ll be homeless. I wake up every day knowing I’ve just got to do my best to get through that day. Each day I manage to smile and laugh. Each day I have someone in my life who I know cares, friends, the staff at the shelter and a new girlfriend now. I’m so thankful to have amazing people in my life. They keep me going and keep me believing that my visa will one day be sorted, that I will be able to get a job and a home of my own.
Thank you for reading my first post. I appreciate it.
I have a gofundme page at gofundme.com/2t6y7ds4 if you would like to help me. Namaste