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.
For the last 14 years, the Edmonton Coalition on Homelessness and Housing organizes a Homeless Memorial to honour those who have died due to the effects of homelessness in the last year. I was first asked four years ago to share my personal story of how housing changed my life after living homeless for many years. I spoke two years in a row and each time I emphasized what I would like to see change for my fellow neighbours experiencing homelessness.
The memorial is always very emotional for me - I've seen so many friends I lived with or who had helped me in the past pass away from the effects of homelessness. My heart breaks knowing our society doesn’t feel the urgency to help all people get back on their feet. Happiness can be harder to achieve when you are plagued with addictions, mental illness, housing issues and poverty. It's likely you will die before ever achieving happiness and the warmth of a home. As I watched the wonderful people speak, sing, drum, and pray at this year's memorial, I sighed with a small bit of relief that possibly there could be progress in the near future. By progress, I mean seeing more of my family and friends survive homelessness and its social predicaments.
Surviving shouldn’t be a lifestyle in 2019, rather it should be a word we look up in the dictionary. Youth, women and men died this past year and it’s sad because this is a very simple and solvable problem - death doesn’t have to be the way out of homelessness for our fellow Edmontonians. However, it is happening - people are dying and many more will die in the next few years.
Our governments and Edmonton resident’s have a role to play - I want to see the participation grow to help build more appropriate, affordable and accessible housing to diminish our marginalized society. What can be done?
Improve living wage and basic income
Increase job accessibility
Create access to proper mental health services and addiction services
Change perspectives on homelessness, it is an effect of an underlying problem
I've been housed for five years and I still struggle to become a self-sustaining society member. I require physical accessibility services, mental health access, financial assistance and respect from my community for my lived/living experience. A memorial that happens once a year provides an opportunity to reflect on my experience and those of my friends. I reflect on where my spiritual, mental and physical journey has come and I pray and hope others will have the opportunity to do the same in their near futures. The memorial was a great service - I hope more Edmontonians take the time to attend and can learn more about their neighbours’ experiences. With those stories, respect and understanding may come more easily to the middle and upper class Edmontonians when they interact with those experiencing homelessness.