Recovery and relationships in a small family home
Reprinted from "Housing and Homelessness" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (1), pp. 18-19
My wife and I immigrated to Canada as newlyweds so that we would be able to provide a better life for our future family. We have a strong marriage and are devoted to our boys. My oldest son, Kassa, is 12 and has just completed grade seven at our local school. My second son, Bekele, is 10.
We live in an apartment that is far too small to meet our family's needs.
Bekele, after many hospital stays, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. One part of Bekele's illness is depression. When he is depressed, he cries. Because our small apartment is so small, this upsets everyone else as well.
The other part of Bekele's illness is that he feels restless. People, noise and confined spaces make him restless, and he runs, jumps, paces and makes noise in an attempt to calm himself down. But he is unable to calm himself. Whether he is inside or outside, Bekele is in constant motion. I take him out when I can, but it is impossible to be out at the park at all times.
Staff at the hospital have come to know my son, and have provided a special room for him there. His room is away from the other children, so he has a place with less noise and distraction where he can go to calm down and relax. Because of our close space, Bekele has not been able to come home for weekends when he's been in hospital.
Bekele's need for a room where he can be calm is an important part of his treatment plan, and we are unable to provide this in our home. If we had a place with another room and a small yard, it would provide more opportunities for him to be on his own in a safe environment where he could be supervised.
Our home has only two bedrooms, so the boys have to share a room. Sharing a bedroom with Bekele is very difficult for Kassa. Kassa needs his own space to do his homework or just have his own down time. Right now, Kassa has no place to go in our home to be alone and just relax. He does his homework at the kitchen table, and is constantly distracted from his work by Bekele pacing and running. If Kasse goes into the bedroom, it makes little difference as the bedroom is right beside the rest of the living space - and it is also Bekele's room.
At night it's very difficult for Kassa to get any sleep. Bekele only sleeps about four hours. Often, Kassa will be woken at five in the morning by Bekele jumping on his bed. This makes it very hard for Kassa to get up in the morning and go to school. He is usually very tired and finds it hard to concentrate at school. All of this has had a detrimental effect on his schoolwork. While Kassa is very worried about his brother, one of his reactions to Bekele's recent hospitalization was: "Finally, I can get some rest."
This situation also impacts my wife and our relationship. Makeda works outside the home. I am able to stay at home with the boys because of a permanent back injury. When my wife comes home from work, we are both tired. Being with Bekele all day, around his constant movement and being constantly on guard, is exhausting and increases my back pain. When Makeda comes home from work I would sometimes like to be able to take a break from home and go for a coffee. This has become impossible because we have no place for Bekele to be while I am out of the house. He becomes agitated and has hurt his mother while trying to get out of the house to find me. I feel that if he had his own space, he could go there and we could all have some time to relax in our home.
Two years ago we applied to BC Housing for a larger home for our family. The professionals who work with us supported our application. I was told that, on the BC Housing rating scale, we have only a 60% rating for needing a bigger home, which means that those with higher ratings would be provided a home before we would be.
Last month BC housing finally contacted us to look at some housing. The house they showed us was right on the highway. I told them that living on the highway would be too dangerous for Bekele, so we couldn't accept this housing.
Bekele is unaware of his own safety. We live on the second floor of our building. There is a steep flight of stairs that leads to our apartment. When Bekele is pacing and moving, he will often open the door, dart down the stairs and run out into the traffic. Recently, we had an incident when I was going to take Bekele out to the park. I was putting on my shoes, and in the time it took for me to tie my laces, he was down the stairs, across the street and running toward the traffic. I went after him as fast as I could, calling his name, running into the street after him. As he turned to run back to me, we were both nearly hit by a car.
Because we did not take the house, BC Housing cancelled our file and we can no longer apply for a new home.
Makeda and I are currently challenging BC Housing's decision. But we have already waited two years - and who knows if we will ever be able to improve our situation. So we struggle on, continuing to make the best of a bad situation - trying to provide a safe, productive home for our family.
About the author
Medr* and his wife Makeda* live in Burnaby with their two sons, Kassa* and Bekele*