This article is part one of a five-part series on the differing perspectives of the homeless versus mainstream culture and how that stigma associated with being homeless directly affects their relationships between authorities, public space and themselves.
Three years ago, Wanda MacKinnon woke up in the emergency room at Kelowna General Hospital with a stab wound and a concussion.
She claimed she was hassled by three men for money she didn’t have, in an area she didn’t want to be in.
MacKinnon had been living on the streets for several months after unforeseen circumstances, which she said were “devastating.”
“Believe me, it was one of the loneliest times in my life and there did not seem to be a way out,” she said.
A year before the assault, in April 2015, MacKinnon said her 37-year-old son joined her in Kelowna to find work.
According to MacKinnon, the jobs never lasted more than a few days. She gave him duties and chores around the house, such as banking and cleaning, to keep him busy and earn some money in the meantime.
It was during this time, she said, that her son began toying with petty crimes, slowly letting a life of drugs and mischief take over.
She said he disregarded any of her attempts to help him recover.
Over a few weeks to a month, MacKinnon was admitted to hospital for gallbladder surgery.
The plan was for her son to pick her up once she was released, but he did not show.
MacKinnon, fresh from surgery, said she arrived home to her landlord, who was also her boss, firing and evicting her on the spot on the grounds of something her son did and said.
“He gave me a notice of eviction,” she said. “I asked what was going on and he responded, saying, ‘You know the answer to that.’”
In a state of shock, MacKinnon furiously tried contacting her friends and her son, but no one would take her phone calls.
She went to the bank — no money.
She said bank representatives told her that all her money, including all her savings, were gone and that she could be charged for fraud. After all, she had given her son access to her bank account.
MacKinnon claims within a month more cheques had been cut and more fraud committed.
She explained she pleaded not to be charged, and wasn’t, but had to pay back every last cent of the stolen money.
Her landlord got rid of her belongings, which included bank statements, clothes and personal belongings because she did not move out quickly enough.
“The only thing I felt I could do was suicide,” she said. “I was ruined.”
MacKinnon spent the next few months on the street until she was able to transition into an emergency shelter.
She then moved into supportive housing. Now she has found a stable home and will begin working soon.
“It has been a very painful process; just to try and gain a little confidence has been difficult. I am not the person I once was—everything I had was stripped from me,” she said.
“I struggle everyday. I tell myself sometimes that I doubt I could be that person again.”
MacKinnon was part of the first graduating cohort for PEOPLE Employment Services, a non-profit social enterprise that transitions people with lived experience of homelessness back into the workplace.
MacKinnon said she is excited to begin working again.
Now that MacKinnon is well on the track to recovery, she reflected on how it made her feel to live on the streets in a town where homeless people are shunned.
The first instance that comes to her mind is the night when she woke up in the hospital after being assaulted.
“I noticed how distant I was being treated, which I knew was not uncommon with homeless people,” she said, after claiming she was released from the hospital at 3 a.m.
“I’m not sure how long I wandered around for; it was days.”
She understands how hard it is to have your life ripped from you, then be spit on—quite literally, at times—for it.
“Many people who are homeless say they have been treated like the lowest and dirtiest people on the planet.”
Even with her struggles, MacKinnon is trying to move past the discrimination, stereotypes and events that made her want to end her life.
Her son called and apologized a few months following the incident, trying to remedy the mother-son relationship.
She said she wanted him to correct everything that he had done wrong, which he didn’t want to do. So she told him not to contact her again, unless he changed his mind.
MacKinnon hasn’t heard from her son since.
Reporter, Kelowna Capital News
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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