Paula only spent three months on what she calls “the circuit” — spending her days finding warm spots in Toronto, a city she spent most of her life in, and returning to different shelters each night by curfew so she would have a place to sleep. But for her, and many others, mere months can feel like years.
“They fed me well, I had a place to sleep, and thank God there are places like that –– but I would have gone nuts if I stayed there any longer,” she says. “When you are in this situation…the longer you are in it the harder it is to get out…[it’s like] a weight around your ankle…it’s there and you get used to it.”
Paula was always a hard worker, maintaining a steady stream of jobs from the age of 13. She worked in security for 12 years and at one point, Paula managed 30 security guards and mentored 15 teenaged volunteers. She had a warm personality and a knack for taking control of situations. However severe osteoarthritis in her knees made it hard for her to sit or stand for long periods and eventually, she couldn’t keep a job. Soon after, Paula split up from her partner and everything she knew came to a sudden end.
It was during this time, a cycle of going between various shelters, that she was approached by a housing worker who told her about Homes First. She needed to do an interview and she would have roommates but if she succeeded, she would have her own room and a home.
Interested, Paula did the interview. A week later, the housing worker came back to her, asking if her stuff was packed. When Paula asked why, the answer was a good one.
“’Cause you are moving.”
“For the next two weeks, I was singing every day,” says Paula. “Then I moved in … I was thrilled!
With access to a computer and a place to call home, Paula has reconnected with her best friend and they spend their time together going to jewellery shows and camping. She looks forward to celebrating Christmas, to decorate the apartment with her roommates and is hoping her 14-year-old daughter can come as well. With Homes First she found a community that supports her, new friends and a sense of privacy. But Paula knows she was lucky and Homes First has strengthened her perspective on Toronto’s stance on homelessness.
“I’m lucky that Homes First exists. Lucky that I didn’t get stuck going through the circuit,” she says. “Regular people need to spend more time seeing what’s around them … to stop pretending you don’t see what you do … we have a problem, a homelessness problem. There are a lot of people in need.”
Reworked story by Hania Ahmed