Individuals experience poverty in unique ways. Sharing stories of poverty helps to reaffirm daily struggles and stress important issues. In stories, we find both common ground that binds us all together, as well as the distinct aspects that make each of our lives one of a kind.
To ensure that all voices are heard in the networks we are creating at ICFSP, we welcome your stories of the experience of poverty. To get started we've retrieved a few stories from a supportive housing organization and posted them below. To share your own story, please fill in the required fields below.
Story 1: The little shoe boy
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak with a pregnant single mother staying at the Inn from the Cold whose son had just received shoes to return to school, one pair for indoors and one for outdoors. The mother told me that her son had never owned new shoes and was alternating between wearing one pair to bed and placing the other under his pillow every night. On the third night she told her son that he would no longer be able to wear his shoes to bed because they had become too dirty. His response was to gently wash them each evening and place them under his bed, sometimes sneaking them under his pillow, and the first thing he did when he woke up every morning was touch them because he could not fully comprehend that they were actually his.
Shortly after this conversation his family received housing, the first thing on the boys mind was his shoes as he asked if he could keep them. This misted my eyes as I began to truly understand the quote; "judge not a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes". This little man was sometimes angry, often sad but he had endured more is his brief time on earth that any of us could begin to imagine. We cannot go into detail about his life because his family remains at risk, however, we can tell you that he arrived at the Inn from the Cold in a desperate situation wearing only the clothes on his back, he had fled his home in fear, left everything he knew behind in search of a safe place to begin to rebuild his life.
This year an amazing organization called Stephens Backpacks made the decision to adopt this family and Inn from the Cold, with help from our friends at Rapid Exit, secured a safe home for them to call their own. However, even with a home of their own they did not have the essentials to live a modest life; they owned no furniture or utensils, only two mattresses on the floor, a foldable camping chair, and an old tube TV. It is no small wonder our little shoe boy needed to hold on to something of his own so desperately, his shoes.
Fast-forward to December and a surprise home makeover where the little shoe boy, his mother, and his brother returned to their newly redecorated, yet modest, apartment. The mother had to walk in and go back into the hall twice to make sure it was her place, and her older son was so delighted he kept saying "Santa has come and we won't need to eat on the floor anymore mommy". Two nights after the makeover our little shoe boy went to his mother and told her "tonight I will sleep in my own bed and mommy, I think you are safe enough to sleep in your own bed too". It doesn't get any better than this, a family safe and sound at home for Christmas.
These experiences are the reason we are committed to ending homelessness in Calgary, these experiences are why we are so thankful for contributions from the community and our amazing partners. Thank you Calgary for all you do to change the world one life at a time, together we are making a difference in the lives of those in need.
Story 2: A family finds hope in Calgary!
A single mom and her children came to the Inn from the Cold in August. They drove three days / nights from Windsor Ontario in an attempt to flee a domestic violence situation. Upon arrival at the Inn, they were very apprehensive about getting involved with the Family Support Workers. They were scared, hungry and very tired.
Soon, everything changed. Within one month, all of the children were attending our local community school and flourishing, routinely bringing back awards for high marks and stellar attendance.
Within 4 weeks, the family was able to move into housing. An anonymous donor offered to refurnish their new apartment with brand new beds for all the children and the mother. This generous donor also provided brand new kitchen appliances, new couches, chairs and kitchen table. There were tears of joy and gratitude.
Today, the mother is enrolled in a local university to complete her degree in nursing. The children continue to flourish in school. The entire family routinely visits the Inn to share their experiences and hopes for the future.
Professionals at Calgary's Urban Projects Society recognize there is no quick fix to poverty. The issues at the root of it are complicated and impact multiple generations, requiring the support of the community and extended family to recover from the effects of it.
Story 3 Jennie: One World Child Development Centre Story
Grayson is a happy and outgoing kid. He is a five year-old kindergarten student at One World Child Development Centre and the third generation in his family to come to CUPS. In 1992, his grandmother Trudy was among the first clients of the Family Centre. She was known among staff and her fellow parents as kindhearted. She occasionally volunteered at the centre and even rolled up her sleeves to paint donated office furniture in bright colors for its
Bridging these two generations is Jennie, Grayson's mom and Trudy's daughter. Now a young and vibrant mother, she too found herself at CUPS when pregnant at 17 and alone.
"Financially and emotionally it was very hard," says Jennie. Classmates and friends were free to enjoy the carefree life of teenaged years while Jennie's world of responsibility meant a tough path. Her mom was there for support but suggested she reach out to the people at CUPS who helped in difficult times.
But difficulty escalated for Jennie years later when at 26 she found herself at the centre of a more complicated life she had never imagined. Suddenly she had five kids in her home-with two children of her own, daughter Mandy and son Jeff, and pregnant with her third-she began to care for her niece and nephew full
"She is an amazing mom," says Amber Murray, Assistant Education Director at One World Child Development Centre where Grayson is currently enrolled in Kindergarten. Murray observed Jennie's
skill at holding it all together as a mom, and notes the resources CUPS has offered over the years to her have been very well-invested. Jennie gives back to her kids and readily shares with the broader circle of her family and the community.
"People come to her-other parents-because she gives advice from her own experiences in a gentle and positive way. She has an optimistic outlook," says Murray. Jennie takes her responsibilities in stride and admits there's occasional chaos with a full household-but wouldn't have it any other way. "They're good kids," she says. She juggles a full schedule which includes a part-time job in the One World kitchen, dance classes and swims at the Killarney pool with the kids.
"Kids don't come with a manual. And without extra money, it's too expensive to take parenting courses," she says, thankful for all the resources One World gave her to help stretch her budget and give her a parenting edge. She's especially thankful when specialists at One World identified and addressed delays in motor skills in her middle child Jeff and helped him overcome anxiety when introduced to new situations. Graduated from One World and now eight years old, he's one of the original students who enrolled when One World first opened. Today, he's a sweet boy who loves school, sports and
has lots o friends among his peers.
"We are all doing fine. These kids are my life and what makes me happy and what I get out of bed for. I want to have as much time with them as possible and they are my focus
Story 4 Jim: CUPS Rapid Exit Housing
For those working in jobs, their best efforts are typically between 9-5. For those living their passion the best opportunities seem to come effortlessly 24/7.
Rushing to meet a group of her friends in her off hours, Sarah of CUPS Rapid Exit parked her car near the Keg on Calgary's 11th Avenue SW and had only a few minutes to spare before she'd be late for dinner reservations. But in those minutes, there was more than enough time to present a turning point in a 53-year old man's path, who Sarah spotted walking towards her.
Jim had been surviving in shelters for years and first met Sarah when she worked at The Mustard Seed. Sarah knew Jim as a regular at shelters and one of Calgary's chronically homeless. He was past middle age, one of the working poor, single and seemingly comfortable with the camaraderie he found among the guys surviving at the shelter.
"It was a lucky thing to see Sarah that day. Everything came together after that," says Jim. Jim is like many blue collar workers in the West. He'd left Newfoundland at 17 years old, with no education and no stable support. All he had was a oneway ticket to Toronto. By the time he was in his 40s, Jim had known decades of a lifestyle where he worked to support happy-hour games of pool with drinking buddies from work.
"I'd finish at 3pm. Go to the bar. Play pool. Drink beer. It was a seven-day routine," says Jim. The lifestyle caught up with him in 1999 in Vancouver, when in a seven month period he suffered three heart attacks, including an episode where he woke up in the hospital and was urged to undergo emergency surgery. "Someone had picked me up off the street and I ended up in St. Paul's Hospital," he says. "I was told if I waited any longer it would be lights out."
Years later he worked as a laborer at a moving company in Chilliwack, BC, where the owner of the company liked Jim's amicable and humble demeanor but recognized his struggles. He wanted to reward his loyal work ethic and offered him some extra money for handling a big furniture delivery in Calgary. Jim jumped at the suggestion, particularly since he was eager to put some distance between himself and a rough patch with his then girlfriend, and was soon on the highway to Alberta.
Little changed outwardly for Jim in Calgary with respect to his addiction to alcohol-an ever-present temptation among his buddies downtown. Inwardly, during moments of quiet reflection, Jim gravely recognized something had to change because his health was only going to get worse without a place to call home. Meanwhile, few knew about a deal Jim had made with himself. At his request, the boss agreed to withhold part of Jim's pay and put it into
a savings account for him. "I took a good look at myself and asked 'what am I doing here?' If I am going to have anything, now is the time. It is so painful," says Jim.
The savings ultimately reached a sum of $6,000 shortly after the day Sarah happened to spot Jim strolling towards her. She had recently joined CUPS Rapid Exit Housing and excitedly told him about her new job-which had recently expanded to help singles. For 15 years, Sarah had been working with the handicapped and mentally ill, including recent months at CUPS when her heart lead her to help the homeless.
"In ten minutes, I had explained all the steps to getting into housing," she says. She pressed a business card into his hand and asked him to call her. On December 9, 2009, Jim moved into a quiet residential apartment near Heritage Drive. Leading up to the move, he acquired a new bed, a sofa, bedding and other furniture which customers of the moving company were otherwise throwing away.
"It's a beautiful one bedroom apartment. It's really nice and I love it. I am away from downtown. I am away from the bar scene," he says proudly. "And as long as I can open my eyes and put my feet on the floor, I'm happy. I enjoy independence."
Now Jim is a model tenant and is so serious about keeping his home he pays rent two months ahead. "He is better able to take care of himself," says Sarah "He thanks me, but he really did it himself."
Story 5 Sarah: If I had know then what I know now . . .
Editor's Note: The following story was recently submitted to the Action to End Poverty in Alberta website. The writer is a middle age woman who talks about overcoming tremendous circumstances growing up in a dysfunctional family. I have made some minor edits to remove identifying information. The looking back quality of this story points to how this woman's awareness has been raised around the kinds of helping services she found herself connected to more than two decades ago. She has overcome much in her lifetime it seems and the next installment may give us more insight into her efforts to overcome the financial and relationship challenges in her life.
My story starts as a teenager from an alcoholic and abusive family. I was 16 years old. A friend of mine about the same age was living in a group home. She suggested I run away from home for a day so I would qualify for councilling at an agency that helped teenagers. So I stayed at her place for a day, got a councillor and went back home. The councillor was useless. The biggest argument at home was how much housework I should do. My councillor told me "trust me," without even telling me what she was going to do or telling me why. Trust is earned. She worked with my parents to work out a "contract" to fix what the terms should be. To me this is like putting a bandage on slit wrists. Can you imagine councilling a battered woman on the "terms of her housework?" For one thing alcoholics can't keep agreements. As for the drinking all she said was "Stay away from your parents while they are drinking." I wish she had introduced me to Al-ateen. If a battered woman goes to a shelter she is helped into some form of transitional housing or independent living. I hope things are better for teenagers now, but I doubt it.
The councillor referred me to a counseling agency here in Calgary. I have to say that councillor was honest. She told me the group home might be better than my home or it might be worse. When I look at the newspaper articles of that day it was true. Going into a group home was like Russian Roulette. I also learned later on that some teenagers live on their own in modest apartments. Why didn't a councillor offer that? Why didn't a councillor also tell me what the benefits of a group home could be? My runaway councillor told me since I was 16 I wasn't quite a child, and not quite an adult. However, according to the law I really wasn't a runaway anymore. It was now legal for me to live where I chose. The thing of it was you need information to make a decision. She wasn't forthcoming with information. Then she tried to show me how my father talks to me by going over a letter he wrote to me when he lived overseas. She pointed out that he was communicating as if I were a mature adult. Has she ever heard of a "Jeckel and Hyde" personality? My trust in this agency grew to nil when I was talking to a councillor on their overnight line. I told her about my father living overseas and she immediately said, "Oh, you're the one whose parents lived in ----------." In those days I didn't know that councillors brainstormed together about clients. It was as if she had broken my confidence. I gave up on the agency.
I thought I better make the best of it where I was and invest in education so I don't have to live in poverty. My father promised to pay for any post secondary education I wanted if I would stay in the house. I went to my school councillor to start preparing for my future. All I got was an interest test. I asked why there wasn't more help. He said, "Because usually people your age aren't interested in choosing a career until they are 18." I noticed now the high school now has a huge program to help teenagers decide what education or job to take after graduation. I started out in a Liberal Arts program at university in English because 1) It was on of two top interests on my interest test 2) English was my favorite subject in high school and 3) I was so depressed that no other subject meant anything to me. My parents discouraged me the entire way and when I think about it there was some truth to it. When I graduated the voice in my head said, "After all, a B.A. is worth bugger all!" We were also in a recession. This was my start into the work world.
What I really needed was:
1) a safe and humane place to live
2) Al-Ateen then Al-Anon
3) all the aftercare programs they give after the women's shelter
4) information about how I was a sitting duck for bad relationships with men and guidance on picking a good man
5) an antidepressant
6) a councillor that wasn't a know-it-all, and also trained in family of origin issues including addictions
7) career counseling and the money to pay for post secondary education
This is the end of story number one. Stay tuned.
Story 6: Tony's Story
I first experienced poverty in Montreal, Quebec when I was in early high school. I had taken the bus from my family's home on the south shore to the island core and decided to stay as long as I could. The nights were pretty scary but this is where the homeless people stood out from the crowds. I found them in the shadows and old alleyways. There were people of all ages and backgrounds and these were the members of their own chaotic family. I followed them to the places they got food and shelter, the Old Brewery Mission and the Y and old churches where the folks there have been doing it for many years before I was born. The old mariner's church in the old port area was a place for the sea-faring men gave out sandwiches every Wednesday. I knew that it was not my place to take another's, I was young and strong, while many of the men I saw were bent and broken, some had their spirits intact still but maybe not as controllable with a bit of alcohol. I met several women in this col
lective mix, Skyler was an Inuit and I know in my heart that she has not survived.
I promised myself that I would always give of myself and offer actions to help end poverty and hunger.
Later, as the recession dug in deeper and I had apprenticed to be a Chef Cuisiniere, I moved on to Toronto, Ontario where 10 yrs later upon meeting my wife-mother and hearing all the great stories of Calgary's BOOM then moved and settled here.
My story is short and condensed, but there are many details of my experiences that I can share with you, but not now. Now is the time to talk about Calgary.
I was Impressed at the size of the new drop-in center in the dtwn core. I was really contented to see that the "homeless" has a place more to congregate and plan for improving their futures. What did bother me was the sense of separation the rest of the population felt about the unfortunate few that have to use the drop-in's resources. I was bothered by how many homeless there were in this "boomtown", and I was unimpressed with the availability of fresh grown foods.
I volunteered in many food growing initiatives in Calgary. I assisted the community of Montgomery in acquiring land for a community garden and helped develop it. From there I joined the Calgary Food Policy Council and became the Chairperson for a year. We planted gardens where we could get allowance, in planters, downtown core, and parks. I presented several forums and discussed even with the new mayor for a few moments the benefits of developing urban agriculture and building food security for Calgary and held a street party to benefit actions to end hunger.
I am dismayed currently, poverty is rising, hunger is increasing and if only I had more partners and resources to put my design to work to benefit the reduction in the number of homeless and hungry humans.
Story 7: Sandra's Unfinished Journey
My story is long but I will shorten up. I am formerly from Nova Scotia. NS Government helped me to get a Bachelor of Arts and Community Studies Degree however I was accepted at Dalhousie University and the government said that I was employable and can no longer help me. I was devastated however undaughted. I said this dream I will need to do myself. I worked 48hr and 60 hr work weeks at Magna car parts manufactoring plant, applyed for many bursaries. I did it!!! I graduated May 25, 2009. Unfortunately nepotism is high in my communit so a job was hard to find. My 3 children live and work here in Alberta.
In NS Cape Breton, I was a huge advocate for marginalized peoples. although i was not getting paid work. I was actively helping other people. In 2005 and again 2009, I recieved nomination for "Inspiring Lives Award". Since arriving in Sepember I have yet to get employment and I will say it is not for trying hard. I participated in power point presentation for police in our community on mental health and stigma and discrimination. I was a participant in a Recovery Video with a focus group of 5 participants experiencing different mental health issues.
Today, unfortunately with all hard work, i have no job. It is sure a sign of something amiss in this Government and in Nova Scotia. Since 1995 I have been on Government Assistance, a few jobs here and there however none in Social Work. Certainly a sad commentay for me.
Everyday, I push on, my children all living and working here, raised by single mom. They are proud of their mom but are also disappointed at my struggle. I took 5 workshops at Alberta Works. Recent interview WCB. Rejection I am very familiar with however I WILL NEVER GIVE UP.
Thanks for your time in reading a short version of my story.
Sandra Mac Keigan BSW,RSW