Impact Stories

Finding space to call one’s own

Finding an affordable home can often be a struggle. After separating from her husband, Betty has been searching for two years for a place she can call her own.

Betty’s story is part of the Good Neighbour series where we share the stories of individuals and agencies who are 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.” Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a story. Everyone matters. 

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.

A little over two years ago, Betty’s life was very different. She was married, had a job she enjoyed, and happily living on the Mainland. But life doesn’t always go in a straight line, and Betty found herself starting her life over in Nanaimo.

“It was very difficult coming over. I had to leave my job, other family, friends … and leaving my husband was not easy but it was a decision I had to make. He suffered from addictions. I’d never been in a situation like that before, so it was very difficult. And not seeing it for so long. It was all through the relationship even though I didn’t know of it all the time.”

Discovering her husband had a serious drug addiction and was leading a lifestyle that was unsafe, Betty packed up her belongings and dog. “I didn’t have anywhere on the Mainland that I could go for the interim to figure things out. It was during COVID so I could work remotely, and so I moved in with my parents.”

“It was only supposed to be temporary and now it’s been two years,” she says.

Living with her family has been a mixed blessing for Betty. While she is thankful she has a roof over her head, the arrangements aren’t ideal. “It’s a shared space, there’s no upstairs downstairs. It’s a one level house and we’re all there on top of each other,” she explains.

“It’s very stressful and it’s embarrassing. I’m 47 years old and living with my parents and when you meet people you feel judged when you tell them your situation. People don’t understand, you know … most suggestions are, well get a second job. That doesn’t always work because of responsibilities. It makes you feel like less of a person because you live at home.”

When she first moved over, Betty’s husband decided to follow her to the Island in hopes of a reconciliation. While they were discussing this possibility, her husband overdosed, and things changed again. “He passed away within 6 months of moving here and that left me in a pretty bad head space even though we had been separated, so I really did need my family at that point. It’s just been a struggle.”

Betty has been able to move forward from her husband’s death with the support of her family, even though it hasn’t always been easy, and the grief still remains. She feels ready to move out on her own but finds the housing on the Island difficult to attain.

Despite working fulltime, Betty has found it difficult to find an apartment within her price range, as well as one that accepts dogs. “Housing over here is considerably out of my price range. I work full time so I should be able to rent but it’s so high and it’s really hard to find something in my range and that will allow a dog – and I’m not looking for anything fancy, just a place to live. And I’m not leaving my dog behind.”

She has also searched for apartments outside of Nanaimo, from Port Alberni to Duncan. Prices there are similar, and even if she can find a place that’s cheaper, she has the gas prices to worry about.

“The cost of gas going up, the cost of groceries … I don’t have a huge social life because I’m trying to save, save, save.”

Her daily searches for an affordable apartment have become a stress point. As she places more pressure on herself to move out of her parents’ home where “they’re not getting their privacy and I’m not getting mine,” Betty’s wellbeing becomes more frayed. She’s even considered moving back to the Mainland, where she doesn’t have a support network but she’s observed “they seem to have more housing.” The costs are still prohibitive, but Betty hopes she’d be able to find a job that pays enough to allow her and her dog to live together in a small place.

“I’d like to have my own space, to have friends come over for dinner … to be able to take my stuff out of storage and have it in my place and just be able to enjoy the bare minimum of things. Doesn’t have to be over the top fancy or anything, just have my own space with my own things and that comfort.”