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In 2006, I found myself going around in circles for six months trying to find work. Shortly thereafter I became homeless and my health issues deteriorated and I had chronic pain. I had spent three months couch-surfing on my brother’s couch and all my belongings were in storage. I was constantly anxious about how I was going to pay for the next month’s rent for storage. I was accessing food banks once a week to keep myself nourished.
In October 2006, I walked through the doors of the Downtown Eastside Womens' Centre (DEWC). By then, I was homeless, in pain, and with no prospects of finding a job. The DEWC became a great asset for me to get support, resources, advocacy, and to acquaint myself with the area. Soon enough, I was lucky and managed to secure housing in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), where I have resided for the past five years.
Until I moved to the DTES, I was unfamiliar with the crisis of homelessness and poverty. There are approximately 11,000 homeless across BC, with 2500 homeless in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Those who are homeless are disproportionately Native and most are suffering from some kind of physical or mental health issue or disability.
Most people do not realize the impact that being homeless has on people’s lives. I was only homeless for three months, while many others are homeless for years, even decades. I cannot even begin to comprehend how people survive through the serious physical and psychological consequences on one’s well-being. The impacts of homelessness include feelings of isolation, spread of infectious disease, and health deterioration from exposure to cold and wet weather, and lack of safety and privacy especially for women.
Despite all the hardships that I passed through, I have been fortunate enough to find secure housing and to access a variety of programs in the DTES. I was granted bursaries, which allowed me to attend some UBC classes for free. I re-acquainted myself with art, which I love. One of my paintings was accepted into the ‘Painting on the Edge’ exhibit on Granville Island. After the gallery showing was over, my painting actually sold! I was ecstatic. I became a volunteer at the Downtown Eastside Womens' Centre for five years and joined the DTES Power of Women Group.
The DTES Power of Women Group exposes the systemic issues in our neighbourhood and this is important because I still see the faces of the homeless who are in need of housing, shelter, food, clothing, addiction supports, health services, and so much more. The DTES Power of Women Group helps people everywhere understand the depth of the problems surrounding the DTES.
Amongst other issues, the DTES Power of Women Group believes that safe, supported, and long-term affordable housing should be available immediately for those who are homeless and under-housed. In the interim, though shelters are only a band-aid solution, they should remain open all-year around and not just during the winter. I also think the government needs to provide free storage for all homeless people so the homeless do not have to worry about paying rent for storage or guarding their shopping cart all day long. Loss of one’s belongings and personal possessions such as photographs and memorabilia takes an unquantifiable emotional toll.
The DTES Power of Women Group also feels that the condominium development in Chinatown and the DTES are having a negative effect on low-income residents, who are being displaced and pushed out from the neighbourhood. Many of us from the group, as well as other DTES residents, recently spoke out at City Hall to let the Mayor and City Council know how we felt about this issue and to raise our concerns about their undemocratic plans.
There are many faces to homelessness. Never judge someone else because you never know if you might end up homeless. I never expected it, but I became homeless. Coming from a past of divorce and losing my home, to where I am now, has been a tremendous journey. I can say the DTES has now become my home, a place where I have friends, and spaces where I know my voice will be heard!
Patricia D. Haram is a volunteer in the Downtown Eastside and member of the DTES Power of Women Group. She is proud to have won the Michael Ames Bursary twice from the Humanities 101 program offered in the DTES. She is also a semi-accomplished artist with one of her paintings accepted into ‘Painting on the Edge’ in a Granville Island show. Pat is a happy grandmother and very proud of her children. Haycxka (Thank you).
This story is the last installment of the Downtown Eastside Power of Women “In Our Own Voices” writing project. For more information and to read more stories, please visit http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/author/dtes-power-women-group