Giving Back: Longtime Resident Celebrates 10 Years on our Board of Directors

Twenty-five years ago, Alexis was homeless and struggling with substance use – until she found permanent housing with Homes First.  To give back to our organization, Alexis decided to volunteer with us. Last month, she celebrated her 10th and final year as a resident member of our Board of Directors.

Here is her story.

 

“People lose their housing for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because it’s financial, sometimes it’s because, you know, they get caught up in addiction, sometimes mental illness…Homes First gave me a shot so I was trying to give back.”

How long have you been a resident of Pleasant Manor?

I’ve been here in the building since it opened. When I first got involved with Homes First, I was homeless, and I applied to get into Street City [one of our first housing projects for people with severe mental health and addiction issues]. I was accepted, and that was it. And then a year later, this building was opening and 15 of us (a mix of men and women) were accepted to move [in]. And since that time, there’s been people who’ve moved on, there’s been people who’ve passed away. I’ve seen the building grow and change, I’ve seen the neighbourhood grow and change, and you know, I like living in this neighbourhood- I mean hey, you live where you’re comfortable. Once I started to figure out where things were in the neighborhood I thought, man, where I’m living is great, you know it’s a short walk over to the grocery store, I can get anything I needed there, the bank was just on the other side of the bridge. I mean, it was perfect.

What went through your mind when you heard that you’d received housing?

Oh, I was ecstatic. I knew I didn’t want to go through any more homelessness.  I got tired of couch surfing. As I was going gradually downhill, I ended up sleeping in my car at one point and I had to lose the car because I couldn’t afford it. And then I ended up sleeping on park benches and stuff. And so yeah, it was pretty rough – I even ended up in the shelter system. I didn’t know what I was going to do next in terms of housing, and I was trying to stay sober at the same time. And that was hard enough. I mean, I was dealing with alcoholism. And so once I got my feet planted at Street City, then I could stay sober. That gave me a foundation to start with. And I was so grateful.  I was going through a lot – the amount of time I lived at Street city I was out to [AA] meetings almost every night of the week, when I first got there. I was trying to get a handle on my recovery. So I was busy back then. And a lot younger (laughs).

Thank you for sharing that. I want to ask a few questions relating to your experience on the board.  Why did you decide to join our Board of Directors?

I’d already been living here about 10 years, and I kind of wanted to know what was going on and how Homes First worked and everything, because I knew it was a good organization. But I had no idea just all the mechanisms involved in making it run. So I was kind of curious. I went to my first meeting and found out a little bit about it, and then I was given a tour of all the different properties. And I was going wow, you know, it’s bigger than just [my] building.

I care about people, too. I was marginally housed, so there was a handful of us that I knew at the time that were all in kind of similar situations… some had addictions, some didn’t, and I just kind of felt like I could be a voice or something. It was altruistic – Homes First gave me a shot so I was trying to give back to Homes First a little bit.

 Can you describe the role of a resident board member?

As a tenant rep I’m there on behalf of all the tenants, and then any decisions that are made with regards to tenants, I’m there and then I take that information, and I bring it back to the people in my building. And they talk to other people in other buildings, and it’s sort of like a network of people. I was given a voice, and if I had any questions about something they [the board] were doing, I could ask them. So I had that freedom. When I first got to the board, I didn’t understand about profit and non-profit. They [Homes First] sent me to a one-day workshop and that was a tremendous gift. And then actually, our organization got mentioned as an example of how things should be running for non-profits. And I felt pretty proud of myself. I thought yeah, I’m volunteering for a pretty good organization here.

What has been your biggest takeaway?

I was never that great in math, but actually, because of being on the Finance Committee, I’m able to manage my money a lot better. I figured out what’s important and what’s not important, and about buying something that might affect my budget. I was never very manageable with my money before. When I was, well I call it my party days, any money I made went into a pretty crazy life I had at one point. So, it’s dividends that I’ve gotten from this.

Are there any other memorable moments you’d like to share?

I’ve gotten to learn a lot about myself, I mean, I’m a better person for it. I’ve been exposed to different people from different backgrounds, and it’s enriched my life.  And I guess the unique experience that I had, having come from hard to house at one point, brought that uniqueness to the board. The people that were on the other side of the table got exposed to me…and they found out that I was a pretty decent person.  There’s one or two people that are from the area here that I bump into, that were on the board, and now they’ve got children and stuff. And so, it’s just something I’ll never forget.

 

We are so grateful for the consistent enthusiasm and excellent communication skills Alexis has brought to our board. She will be greatly missed!

 

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Homes First Administration Office, 90 Shuter Street, Suite 206, Toronto, ON M5B 2K6
Phone: 416-214-1870 Fax: 416-214-1873

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