Stories of Courage
The journey for these individuals is not over but we need to listen. Below are the stories of people grappling with various forms of homelessness and street involvement in Steinbach. We hope that reading these stories will help you to better understand this issue in our community.
Living in a Car
Life is difficult when you are living in a car; more difficult than most can even imagine. A call came to Today House one morning from a couple that had suddenly been thrown out of the place they were staying. The weather was balmy for November during the day but uncomfortably cold during the night. They had very little money left and used it all up to pay for a hotel bill. Once the money was gone, they stayed in their car. They were getting $150 in two weeks and they felt that was enough to get them to his family in Ontario. In the meantime, no food, no money and nowhere to go. After Today House invited them into their home, Steinbach Community Outreach met with them and started the planning process. A gentle, kind couple, wanting nothing more than to survive the days ahead, apologized for the trouble they were causing and tried their best to make it as easy for us as possible. Then another barrier for them – she got sick. They postponed their trip a few days until she got better and it was during this time that we had the privilege of getting to know them better. Genuine, lovely people. We were so grateful that we were able to be here for them and to get to know them.
Finding His Soul
Sitting in a restaurant looking rather despondent, a kind policeman approached the middle aged man and asked if he could help him. He was well dressed and nicely groomed but something seemed out of place. He told them his story and how he became homeless. He has no family and did not know where to go. The policeman knew of Today House and gave us a call. They were kind enough to give him a ride to the shelter and to this day he remembers their kindness. Today House welcomed him and gave him a place to go for the night. During the day he spent his time at the Steinbach Community Outreach drop in center where the process of finding a permanent place to live began. Many times he mentioned his surprise at how nice people in Steinbach are! Anxious to get a job and start his new life, we drove around handing out resumes and talked about life. He said he had lost his soul in the process of becoming homeless and felt that he was finding it again as he was connecting with the people at Today House and Outreach. He is still faced with many barriers such as replacing his ID, finding a social life, acquiring a job that he can walk to, and much more. But you can sense the peace in him as we go about removing one barrier after another. He has hope and his soul is gathering a sense of peace as each barrier is addressed. He has fond memories of his stay at Today House, the place where his new journey began.
It was late Saturday night when the phone call came to pick up a gentleman from the emergency room at the local hospital. The gentleman was not feeling well, and did not have an address to be released to. They phoned the Today House number, and I was on call. As I drove to the hospital, my mind was working overtime, trying to solve a problem. We were without volunteers that night, and I knew there was no way I could ask a sick man to spend a winter night on the street. I was ushered into his room, and the intake process began. He was stable, and I knew I would need to offer him a night at the hotel. It is not possible for someone, no matter how street wise, to spend the night outside shortly after being released from a hospital! At that point I was so grateful to all our donors that had made it possible for us to offer that man a night at a hotel, despite the fact that we were without volunteers at the shelter. He too was most grateful for this opportunity, as he told me that he had spent the last eight nights burrowing himself into the snow in a bush along the #12, trying to keep warm during the night. A good warm shower, a night in a bed, and a good supper gave him the energy it took to get up the next morning and continue on his way.
A Family in Turmoil
The young man in front of me, sitting at the wooden table in the shelter was clean and shaven. His eyes sad and humbled, he told us that his family was teaching him responsibility, that they loved and cared for him, and that it was his own doing that had brought him to the point of homelessness. I know he was telling me the truth, as I had talked to his parents that afternoon. A hurting family, reaching out to the community for help in teaching their young son some responsibility was the clear message that day. Taking responsibility though, is only part of the healing process. Knowing how to move forward is the difficult part. When I asked him what he wanted the next step to be, he was unable to verbalize what that would look like. He knew he needed a job, but even if one magically would be offered to him the next day, it would be three weeks before he would get his first pay cheque. He did not know how to access government services to help him along until that point, nor what kind of bills to anticipate when living on his own. He had spent the last three nights at Tim Horton’s, sipping his cup of coffee very slowly, trying to make it last. He had walked miles around town during the day, and said he knew every street and every corner of our city. We have a bit of time, I said, to find that next step. You may stay at the shelter this week, while we help you plan for your future. The relief was evident in his face, and his eyes slowly closed, sleep weighing heavily in his mind. Tomorrow, I said, after a good night’s sleep we will talk about it. The warm air in the shelter, the hot meal before him, and the thick blanket on the bed surrounded him as we left him to recover from his days on the street. All of us in that room were so grateful that we had the opportunity to offer him and his family some relief during this trying time in his life. Thank you, we heard him say as we left.
Caught in the middle
Familiar words entered my mind as I spoke to the young man that sat in front of me. “It’s my fault I am here. I made some bad decisions”. Owning the problem is a huge step forward and I was happy to hear those words. It means that we can move forward, and do some real life problem solving. Sometimes though, the barriers moving forward are equal to the problems of the past. Coming to Today House directly from a parent that was struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, this young man couldn’t stop telling us how grateful he was to be there. “You are now my family”, he told us. And it was not difficult for me and our volunteers to “adopt” him as part of our lives. Bounced between foster homes and his mother’s home, he had not had the opportunity to experience a calm and stable life for very long. He came to us with a broken leg, bronchitis, and painfully thin from not eating regularly or enough. He was clearly suffering and needing assistance in getting back on his feet. The street was not the place for him to heal.
I can cook for you to strengthen your body, one volunteer remarked. I will help you find a place to live, said another volunteer. And I will bring you back and forth to your appointments, said a third volunteer. Caring individuals, a comforting safe space, and a warm environment. It was enough to heal the young man, and today we visit him in his own apartment, where he invites us to his table, patting the roundness of his stomach, complaining about being overweight. A long way from the streets that he knew a few short months ago. “I never want to go back there again”, he told us. “Thanks to Today House, I had a place to come every night, people to talk to me, and help with finding a place to live. You were kind. Everyone should have that in their life”, he said to us. “Keep helping – don’t ever stop”.
Judy is a survivor. She walked away from an abusive relationship and is slowly starting to rebuild her life. She is a mother; her children are 2 and 3. Judy is currently homeless. For the past few months she has been living on her parents’ couch. The situation is far from ideal; Judy’s parents are barely managing to make ends meet themselves. Unfortunately, affordable housing is hard to find in Steinbach. Judy’s only option at the moment is to live on her parents’ couch. Her situation is not unique; across the country thousands of people fall into this category of “Hidden Homelessness.” Judy and others like her would not have a roof over their head were it not for shared and temporary accommodations. An increasing number of people in Steinbach experience hidden homelessness driven primarily by limited access to affordable housing. The need for services to address this is clear.
Youth Living in Discarded Tents
A community service worker in Steinbach recently described her experiences of working with homeless and street involved youth in Steinbach. On average, 8 of these youth approach her on a daily basis in need of food, shelter or clothing. Many of these youth can be described as experiencing “Absolute Homelessness” meaning that they have no physical shelter and instead sleep outdoors, in vehicles, abandoned buildings or other places not intended for permanent occupancy. Last summer three teenage boys acquired tents that had been disposed of and set these up as their shelter. The tents were in poor condition; this was particularly problematic during seasonal rains. Unfortunately this is the only shelter the young men had access to. Many of the youth have left difficult and abusive home situations. Services to fully address the needs of these youth and adequate shelter are increasingly lacking in Steinbach.
The issue of homelessness is complex and multifaceted. The goal of Today House is to support individuals grappling with homelessness in our community and to connect them to vital resources. Please consider supporting this important work.