Reprinted from "Housing and Homelessness" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (1), p. 24
I want my children and my life back and I'm willing to fight for them.
I've been homeless on Vancouver's North Shore for the last five years. Two deaths in the family, a marriage breakup, loss of family life, a gambling addiction and depression created this nightmare. But how I got here isn't as important as how I get my life back.
I feel I have a responsibility to myself, my family and society to turn my life around and be a contributing citizen. I have sweet young children who need a father in their lives, and I haven't been able to be that person. But I have no one to blame but myself. And that has to change.
I finally sought help from the North Shore branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Through their Homelessness Income/Outreach Program, I received help getting on income assistance quickly and without ID. Through the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance (MEIA), I got medical coverage, a referral to job counselling and hope.
Then came roadblocks and frustration. To get a job and keep it, you need a residence. Being homeless, it's hard to keep yourself clean and healthy. It's nearly impossible to hold down a job under these circumstances.
For the last four months I have, with help from my CMHA Outreach workers, looked very hard for accommodations. It's almost impossible to find a room on the North Shore for the $375 a month that MEIA allows you. When you do find something in the price range, you then have to deal with other issues.
Landlords discriminate because I'm male, because of my age (52) and because I lack a good history of previous tenancy. Landlords also don't want to sign a MEIA intent to rent form, because they don't want the government to know they have rental units; they'd have to pay tax on their rental income. Same goes for looking for somewhere to live off the North Shore; same problems. It's enough to drive me back to the bottom of the depression pit. And the general public wonders why there are so many homeless people on the streets.
Homelessness is everywhere. Is there a solution to this problem? I believe there is. I've already said I have to be accountable. The federal, provincial and municipal governments have to be held responsible as well. The provincial Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance offers the homeless $375 a month that they can't use. Why offer me something I can't use? Thanks for nothing.
How about this: don't give me money; give me a clean, suitable accommodation that I could afford if I had a job. Then pay the rent for an allotted amount of time, and I can pay back the cost of the rent when I get work, in small amounts each month. This would be similar to a student loan.
The homeless people need a voice on the North Shore, and I can be that voice. The governments have to start listening - and to whom better than someone who's been there.
About the author
Brian is a divorced father of three, who has lived on the North Shore for 12 years and has worked as a licensed mechanic for 11 years. A struggle with depression resulted in job loss and homelessness, but Brian secured housing in July and is now getting back on his feet.