My home did not feel safe. I felt safer away from home where I could have control over who was in my life and I could choose where it was safe to go to sleep. After leaving home I survived through the kindness of many strangers.
I slept in parked cars in Cloverdale and fruit orchards in the Okanagan. I sat up all night in the lobby of the post office in downtown White Rock (it is now a gelato shop). I washed up in gas station washrooms and learned that I could wash out my underwear and wring them dry in the cloth towel dispensers before putting them on again. They were a little damp but were wearable. When others shared, I used drugs and alcohol but it wasn't often.
Most of the time I was alone; wandering aimlessly around, resting when tired, talking with other homeless people, hitch-hiking from one town to another. Many kind folks gave me money for food or took me to restaurants to buy me a meal. I feel grateful nothing bad happened to me during the time of homelessness. I felt lost but in control of my life and safety but with no real understanding or plan of how life could change for the better, I was just surviving the best I could with each new day. I remember one kind man who was about my dad's age. He gave me a ride through the Okanagan, bought me a meal, gave me some money, and asked what my parents thought about me being out on my own. I hadn't thought about it before. My dad had been lost at sea and my mom was struggling with the loss and our sense of home and family had fallen apart.
Eventually I moved in with a friend's family and finished my last year of high school. I applied for welfare and was given money for room and board. I worked part time as a cook and carhop at A&W in White Rock and managed to graduate. I had always been a good student and school was a positive experience for me.
When I travel to some of those places that bring up vivid memories of my time of homelessness I feel empathy for those who are homeless now. I don't feel empathy for those who hurt others or commit crimes but have empathy for those who find themselves in a homeless situation and don't know how to find their way home.
At this time I am a program manager of a community mental health program and have shared my story with colleagues. We support mental health recovery and in a small way hope our work can prevent some people from experiencing homelessness.
Consultation has concluded
Thank you to everyone who sent in their stories and feedback to help reduce and prevent homelessness in Canada. In the coming months, the Government of Canada will release a report based on what was heard during the engagement process.