Continuing our series of blogs written by folks in Edmonton with lived experience, meet, Nadine Chalifoux. Nadine is an independent advocate for housing, homelessness, health, Indigenous affairs, human rights, social injustice and women’s rights.
With the sun making an appearance and the warmer weather approaching, most Edmontonians start to look forward to outdoor fun with family, festivals and bbqs. However, for my fellow friends living on the streets - these types of events are not the topic of conversation this time of year. Because the snow has melted and the temperature has risen, unfortunately it doesn’t mean life has gotten easier for those experiencing homelessness. Instead, new problems are now interfering with survival.
The majority of the North American population are not required to live in constant survival mode and likely do not understand what true survival actually is. The average person usually thinks of survival as the most obvious and basic items such as clothes on your back, stay close to food and water, have a place to get rest and find a way to get from A to B. There’s much more to survival. Living in survival mode can strip away your humility, vanity, humanity, dignity and pride. Which is why you see many homeless people begging for a spare dollar, food or drink. It’s why you see the homeless asking for a ride on transit or why you see homeless people congregating in the same areas and in multitudes. How else do you expect them to get through the day?
Many people experiencing homelessness are unable to get to health, housing, addiction and or mental health facilities without a bus pass. It’s hard to feel you can continue to get back up after being down so low with no help. Yet, in their position, it is extremely hard to ask for help time after time. The system has already failed them at least once in their life, in order for their life to get to this point. Not everyone can continue to remain strong or stubborn enough to continue or they lack the supports to help them navigate through the tough times. Some people are honestly dealt a worse hand than others.
A buffer system of supports is extremely crucial to survival. Imagine if your check marks didn’t line up - born in poverty, abuse (all or any), and you’re a minority status. These can be overcome but usually only those who have the supports in place can do so. Whether it be one family member or friend, or someone who just genuinely cares about them. That one person can mean a world of difference in overcoming trauma and tragedy. They can give those who have been born predisposed the ability to defeat their circumstance and become who they are supposed to be due to their comfort and care. Life is different in each experience and no one is the same. No experience is easy.
In therapy, I was taught to stop blaming myself for the life I was dealt and how I coped with it. I learned supports don't have to be family, as they may be my trauma, but rather friends. It could be one person who I can rely on to help me be strong again, stay on track and be successful in my own way. I needed that support, I didn't even know it was different than what I already had. Goodness, kindness, and loving support didn't have to come at a price. Trust, love, care and concern were meant to be freely given and accepted without prejudice. Even without return.
When people experiencing homelessness are out there living non-conventionally it's because of the lack of a strong community or support system. Perhaps if we all tried to think of another person’s needs, our loved ones and those hit harder by life will have a better chance of getting through life unscathed by hardship.
Before you think, “that man is homeless because he's a drunk or addict” or, “how gross that woman smells” remember you do not live in their shoes. You have not had to live their lives and you don't know their situation. Try to remember how it feels when someone makes you feel less than you deserve, because you are a wonderful person. Homeless, marginalized and poverty stricken people are also wonderful people.
Please ask yourself:
How can I help?
If I was in their shoes how would I feel?
Am I really better than them?
Why am I not helping them?
Whether it's a kind word, smile, your patience, compassion or donating time, money, resources - it all makes a difference. In truth, it also benefits you as a person in the long run. Go back out into the world knowing this and if you can help in these positive ways - it can make a huge impact. I know from experience. I thank those caring souls that came into my life and offered me help and kindness.