Anna’s story is part of the Good Neighbour series where we share the stories of individuals and agencies impacted by homelessness. The individuals at risk of homelessness, the souls who have experienced homelessness and are seeking a way forward, and those who are the “hidden homeless.”
No one chooses to be homeless. No one hopes to find themselves living on the edge – wondering if they can afford food or rent, searching for a safe place to sleep at night, finding somewhere to settle.
Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a story. Everyone matters.
Coming to terms with trauma
Anna was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. “I was born addicted to alcohol. My mother drank. I’m very lucky because I’m high functioning but I’ve also done a lot, a lot, a lot of work to get here. It’s just generational trauma. Both my parents were alcoholics and me and my brother both struggled,” she explains.
It was this addiction that eventually led to her losing her home and living on the streets. That same addiction led to her brother’s death in January; something Anna grieves and is still coming to terms with.
“He relapsed. He was 40 and he was doing really well. It’s not the addiction, it’s the pain that we’re treating. It’s always going to be easier to use than to not use. We didn’t expect that but that’s the brutality of addiction.”
Anna is very open about her life and experiences, something she’s comfortable doing now that’s she’s in a safe space where she can work through her trauma and move forward. She, like her brother, had also relapsed. “I had four years sobriety, and I was doing really well living in Qualicum. I had my own place, a vehicle, and working two jobs. And I think all that stuff is good, but I wasn’t doing the work. And then there’s only so far you can be busy in life. You’re always going to end up going back to square one if you don’t do the work.”
Living with addiction
After her relapse, Anna lived on the streets in Nanaimo. She was able to access the Samaritan House shelter and started sleeping, showering, and eating there. She credits the staff there for helping her move beyond her situation.
“They’re incredible people, you know. Obviously, there’s a lot of fear. You feel like you’re the scum of the earth and like everyone’s judging you. And it’s so nice when people are nice to you and treat you with kindness and love. They believe in you and that makes you feel really good. And I’ll never forget that. They always encouraged me and they never gave up on me, they always saw the best in me. They made me feel valued like I was worthy.”
It is human kindness and being treated as a human that eventually led Anna to treatment. Initially reticent to go, she knew she had few options left. “I thought, I have nothing to lose. Literally.” Her body was reaching its limit, she was sick and tired all the time from withdrawal or overdose and her visits to the hospital were becoming more frequent.
After leaving the treatment centre, Anna was offered a room at Mary’s Place, a communal house that provides support to women seeking an environment that supports sobriety while they transition from homelessness to independent living.
Finding a safe space to move forwards
Having this safe and dry place to call home is important to coping with Anna’s addictions and ability to make a life she’s proud of. “Not having a home, you’re hopeless. What’s the point of getting better if you have no foundation, if you’ve got nowhere to put your stuff, the little bit of things you have down.”
Anna has lived at Mary’s Place for two years now. During that time, she has accessed resources to help her cope with her addictions, find counselling and mentorship, and is actively searching for independent housing and a job.
“I’ve been looking for work a lot to supplement my income. It’s hard for me because I have a criminal record, but I’ve gone on a lot of interviews. They’re obviously going to go 9 times out of 10 with the person who doesn’t have charges on a criminal record so that’s just the way it is.” She continues, “I want to secure employment and I will move out.”
So far, Anna’s search for housing have seemed out of reach. “I have applied to BC Housing but I’m a single woman and I don’t have kids so I’m going to be further down the line. It’s just not a realistic expectation that I’m going to get housing through them.” She’s also explored the affordable housing options in Nanaimo but without work, those too are beyond her current means.
Meanwhile, she can continue living at Mary’s Place where she says, “They want to see you improving and having better quality of life – moving forward and not backward. They’re very supportive, very nurturing, and caring.”
Every day Anna must stay positive and “put in the work” to maintaining her sobriety.
“I think having a home is the key element. I remember saying on the street, I’ll never get better, I’ll never even want to try and get better unless I have a healthy foundation, a safe space. And I always said that – I’ll never be able to get better unless I have that. I think it’s the core element- to have a safe place to be. A safe haven.”
Funding to agencies through The Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, administered by United Way British Columbia on behalf of Community Advisory Boards, help people like Anna in our local communities.