A middle class, small-town girl that journeys between rags and riches…
Being involved with The Homeless Hub project allows me to give back by telling my story, which is two fold: as a small town, teenage girl who was kicked out; and as a wife of a substance user, who asked her husband to leave, twice.
In my late teens, despite being raised with good values, I got kicked out. While I had the typical teenage "I want my freedom" belligerence, I was still a "good girl". I didn't smoke or drink, do drugs, have sex, or break the law. I was getting straight "A's", holding down a part-time job, minding my siblings after school, and helping maintain our home, while my folks commuted to work.
So why did I get kicked out, when I needed my parents the most? When I feared the unknown of university, and whether I'd have money to attend? Looking back now, through my own parental lens, I believe a few factors were at play: my mother and I were too alike (our relationship was strained and worsened as I became a teenager); my parents had marital issues that were exasperated by physical illness (Fibromyalgia, MH) and mental illness (anxiety and depression); they had heavy financial burdens; we were moving at the time; both parents worked full time and commuted; and, they lacked parenting resources and role models.
So what specifically happened? In my graduating year, the weekend before we moved, I was studying for my final mid-term. My parents were overwhelmed with all the packing for our move. My father flew up to my room in a huff and ordered me to pack. I explained my mother said I could study, since I had packed all week instead. I needed to ace my exams to get accepted into university - a goal they had for me since I was little. He said I was "talking balk", and ordered me out by 6pm! Shock, betrayal, anger, fear, frustration, sadness, and spite overcame me. I believed that I hadn't done anything wrong, certainly nothing bad enough to make him kick me out. It felt that I was behaving quite the contrary; I was being responsible.
As I called my youth group leaders to cancel my attendance at that night's meeting, I tried to hold back my tears, but the story came out anyway. They offered to help but only as a last resort.
While I packed my things, my father tried to discourage me from leaving, telling me I'd be hooking or on drugs within a week. I ignored him and left. My mom tried too, calling my friend's mom, asking her to not take me in, but found a night's stay at another friend's. The next day, I went to school as normal, and went to see the school counsellor at lunch. Shocked to find out the counsellor couldn't help me, I had to call my youth group leaders. We made arrangements for me to stay temporarily. They did their best to accommodate me in their basement with a cot, TV tray nightstand, a privacy sheet and a washroom. I was truly grateful and insisted on paying my way. I did so for 3 months.
Then at work one night, another friend's mother told me her daughter left home, and offered me her room. After I moved there, I worked and studied hard enough that I graduated with honors, and was accepted to university! Over the summer, I reconciled with my folks, took a second job, full time, and saved half of my university expenses. I hoped I'd get approved by OSAP for the other half.
After moving into residence, school started and I did well, until I heard from OSAP - DENIED!!! My appeal was also denied, because I missed the independent status by one month. My parents' income information had to be used, which disqualified me. I withdrew before the deadline to avoid academic penalty.
As a result, I had my first major depression. I slept all day, spent nights in coffee shops playing cards, until - in a moment of deep despair - I feebly attempted suicide, drinking a large bottle of cold medicine. Without a doctor or money, I couldn't get pills that did the job. Besides, I don't think I really wanted to die; I just wanted to escape the pain. Thanks to my dad's parting words, I avoided illegal drugs, not wanting to give him the satisfaction. Emotionally scarred from being kicked out, I was, metaphorically, kicked out again, from university.
I called home and got the lecture I feared I would; the price to pay for a home, I guess. I could stay for six months, as long as I worked full time, did chores, and looked for an apartment. After begging my parents to co-sign a rental agreement, I got my first place.
Things were good until the recession hit. Business at the restaurant where I worked dropped, cutting my income in half, such that all my income went to rent and utilities. Eating was a luxury. I ate lunch at work, and peanut butter and crackers for supper, since I only had ten dollars to my name for about 3 months. I finally found a better job, and roommates to share expenses with. Four more moves, 5 more jobs, and 5 years later, I "made it"! I got a job in the "big smoke" and moved there. I focused on climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, and had also met my (now) husband.
We got married and I worked towards building our family's financial foundation. We had my daughter, (started an RESP for her university), and bought our first home. At that time, the stocks were so good, I was a millionaire (on paper), if only for a day. Wow, what a feeling! Now, I really made it!
Life was great until I got hit with a number of crises: post partum depression/anxiety, twice; the stock market collapse; and, depleted investments (paid the taxes owed from cashing in, to buy our home). Then, I was put on an 18 month working notice (my job was being "right sized"). Now, into my fourth major depression, and fearing being homeless again (with children), I wanted to sell the house, downsize, and move to a small (cheaper) town but faced constant resistance from my husband. My stress grew daily as I approached my last day of work. Realizing he didn't see the urgency, I looked for houses alone, as I job searched.
A week after my job ended, desperate, I took a high stress sales job at half the pay, further straining our finances and marriage. My husband's business slowed and we started borrowing from the line of credit. A few months later, I got an 8-month contract at higher pay, but it still wasn't enough. Rather than wait too long, risking foreclosure, I listed the house without my husband's support. Then he told me he had been using cocaine for more than a year!
He started addiction counselling while I found us a home that could get us debt free and mortgage free. I did, but in not knowing my rights, I was pressured by the bank to take a huge line of credit I didn't need. My husband then started to 'work on me' to get at this money to pay his debts. I agreed on the condition he closed the accounts, but he lied and racked them up again.
My work contract ended 2 months after we moved. I started the New Year unemployed. Nonetheless, I had to stay home to help the children deal with transitional issues from the move, and with their "sick daddy". Unemployment Insurance helped, but, with my husband spending all his income on drugs, we had to live off the line of credit – again! My husband got progressively vicious and abusive. Fearing for the children's safety, and with the support of his and my family, we had an intervention.
He went to detox, then to his sister's to await rehab. He was clean for the 3 months he stayed with her, but slipped the moment she left on vacation, only one week before rebab. Luckily, he was clean by the time he arrived.
He worked the program, and seemed better when we spoke on the phone. In my naiveté, I thought he'd be "cured" and things would improve because he agreed that, once home, he wouldn't use, he would go to NA/AA meetings, and he would be truthful and responsible, or he would have to leave. Two days after returning, he broke his word and used. Bringing him a suitcase, I suggested he call his sponsor. I told him he had to stay clean for 6 months and prove he could honour our agreement, and live on his own, before I'd consider taking him back. I kissed him and left. I cried all the way home.
His brother took him in, but, tired of his lies and using, he kicked him out too. He then crashed at his "friends" houses for a while, despite being repeatedly encouraged to call the local shelter.
We didn't know where to start, so I called Telehealth Canada. A few calls later, I finally got the number of the shelter and gave it to my husband. After a couple of tries, he finally got in, did his maximum 5 weeks, and then found a room for rent.
He stayed clean for 6 months, but was at high risk of relapsing, and not ready for the responsibilities of home. Not wanting to allow my kids to go through hell again, since were just starting to heal, I asked him to wait longer. This sent him on a bender, getting him kicked out of his room. He finally hit bottom.
Not working, he wasn't able to pay his expenses, let alone provide for us. His other sister took him in. He stayed clean, started to show more responsibility, and improved his attitudes towards fatherhood. We were all starting to recover. We went to marriage counselling, both of us started new jobs, and he has moved home. Life was great this summer!
Fall is another story. We're now at risk of losing our home again: our line of credit is almost maxed out; my husband and I will be out of work over the next few months, and we don't have jobs lined up yet. That being said, we do have family support, drive, stamina, morals, and a work ethic to achieve goals while maintaining our integrity and dignity. We are willing and resourceful enough to find what we need to survive. We stay grounded by maintaining our daily routines, taking each day one at a time. We aren't settling for anything less than what we want or need. We know asking for help is the epitome of strength, and prayer helps us to keep the faith, hope, and love alive. "The greatest of these is love"1.
I hope my story brings to light the following: kids, raised with good values, ample food, access to education, proper shelter and clothing, can still became homeless; "middle class" families can actually be poor due to debt; homelessness happens in small towns, where resources are scarce or non-existent; people who face homelessness may not know where to begin to get help (educate and communicate more); people need others to believe in them before they can believe in themselves and achieve goals; free parental and marital resources must be easily accessible to arm couples with the survival tools to handle life crises, while nurturing children; mental illness and addiction issues are more common than most think; use of hard core drugs can happen to anyone's "daddy"; post partum depression has generational impacts; government educational financial assistance must be applied holistically for each applicant; and, homelessness can happen more than once in a lifetime.
1 Holy Bible, Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 1-13.