National Addictions Awareness Week: J’s Story

Before coming to Homes First, J* struggled with alcohol use. She had a difficult and stressful relationship with the father of her children and worked full time to support her family. For a year, J used alcohol as a coping method for her struggles. She drank heavily and it began to impact her work. When J’s employer told her to take a year off, the father of her children got angry and physically assaulted her.

J came to Homes First in December 2019 when she had nowhere else to go. She moved into Bathurst Lake Shore shelter. Still reeling from the gravity of her situation, J continued to struggle with alcohol use.

After spending many weeks at Bathurst Lake Shore, J was spending time with new people when one of them offered to share a joint. The joint was laced with fentanyl. When J overdosed, the new “friend” went through her pockets and took everything she had. Fortunately, all of this was seen on camera. A shelter worker called an ambulance, but J was pronounced dead for 10 minutes before the emergency responders could revive her.

“I remember it was like living at the bottom of the barrel being there… I was a total target,” J said while recounting the incident.

Staff were able assist J in getting her money back, but the incident was a wake up call. She swore off alcohol and has since moved into another Homes First hotel shelter. Along with supports from staff, J has also joined the shelter’s Peer Support Group which helps her keep busy and refrain from drinking. For her, the biggest support has been knowing she has a safe space to sleep each night, which gives her a sense of normalcy.

As a member of the support group, J has undergone harm reduction training and acts as the peer support member for all the other residents on her floor.

“People from the hotel, even people on the street, will ask me for advice. These people feel safe coming to me”

Through her own experiences at Homes First, J is able to understand and sympathize with the mental health and addiction issues faced by many residents at Homes First. J praises her role in the peer support group for providing structure and a sense of community in her life.

“It gets you up in the morning, and it gets you motivated … This place actually saved my life.”

*Resident’s name has been removed to protect her privacy.

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