This story is about Lee and her journey with homelessness. (Photo contributed)

This story is about Lee and her journey with homelessness. (Photo contributed)

Stigma remains for those experiencing homelessness in Kelowna

‘I was in search of a better life.’

By Stephanie Gauthier – Contributor.

Lee has lived through hard times.

Homelessness, substance use, and poverty have all been part of it. Some of the toughest things are surprising, like stigma and the hostility it creates. Last winter, Lee split her time between the streets and a shelter, accessing the shelter only on the coldest evenings.

“I was sleeping outside of a restaurant,” said Lee. It was freezing out that night and I slept under there with my hairdryer. They had a plug-in on the outside wall and I had a tarp and a blanket and I was sleeping underneath that and I had the hairdryer going on me all night to stay warm because I thought I was going to freeze to death.”

It was a hard night, more difficult and frightening than most people can imagine, and then it got worse.

“This one fellow came out of the restaurant and he called me every name in the book and told me to get out of there, so I packed up and left.”

It wasn’t the first time Lee had experienced poor treatment, she has witnessed plenty of examples of stigma in action.

“It just made me want to use more,” she said.

How could it not? Unsheltered homelessness is hard, but life in a shelter came with its own challenges. It’s hard to feel safe in a shelter, especially for women.

“I basically just had a bed,” said Lee. “No privacy whatsoever, and there’s (sic) guys and girls and it’s all mixed. You don’t know who you’re sleeping six feet away from.”

Her health was another factor that made homelessness, and life in a shelter, more difficult. Lee moved from Saskatchewan in 2021 based on an invitation from her cousin.

“I was in search of a better life,” she said. “I have an illness, my liver, and I wasn’t getting help medically in Saskatchewan or Manitoba.”

Lee’s cousin had moved by the time she arrived, leaving her in a new city without a support structure.

“I’ve been kind of a transient person my whole life,” she added. “I just worked and went from place to place to place, and when things didn’t work out I just kept persevering.”

Leee now lives at Ellis Place, a subsidized, supportive housing site in Kelowna. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s better. She has access to the staff and other supports. Lee is happy with where she is. She’s joined a local community church where she volunteers. Lee faces a great deal of uncertainty still, but she finds joy in her home and her church.

“It’s a start and I’m okay with that.”

Read More: Chocolate and empathy, advice from an outreach volunteer on Kelowna streets

Read More: Kelowna’s Journey Home launches Face Homelessness campaign

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City of KelownaHomelessHomelessnessKelownaveterans homelessness

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