I had a good childhood. I grew up in a Christian family, and I went to church every Sunday. I loved sports and was involved in many of them. However, despite living in a positive household, I was bullied throughout elementary school. I was finally able to avoid those who bullied me once I hit high school because it was a much bigger place.
Despite being away from those who bullied me, I still felt the pain from my elementary school experience and believed that I didn’t fit in here either. I started doing things I wouldn’t normally do to get attention and make friends. These friends I started making, weren’t the kind of people I had hung out with before. I started skipping school with them and smoking marijuana. Two years later, this escalated to smoking harder drugs.
Those drugs changed who I was as a person. They changed my morals, my values, and my appearance. When I turned 18, I moved out of my parents’ house and was homeless for the next eight years of my life, stuck in a cycle of addiction. I would hitchhike from place to place, but despite the town being different, the people were the same.
Home to me back then, was wherever I laid my head. I felt safer sleeping in parks or alleys than I did in a shelter or a friend’s place. Those places were filled with people high on drugs, and I had seen on the streets what people were capable of when they weren’t in their right minds. I felt I could control my own fate if I slept outside.
I was always hungry, despite going to soup kitchens for meals. It felt like my stomach was never full. During the winter months, I was usually cold. I’ll never forget one night I took a bus to a place I could stay but I caught the wrong one and ended up on the wrong side of town. I walked all the way back and ended up with frostbite.
It was especially hard to find food and warmth on the holidays. When I lived on the streets, I hated Christmas. It was usually cold, and I would go hungry because the soup kitchens were closed. If I tried to go to a fast-food restaurant that was open to warm up, they would kick me out for loitering. Christmas was a hard day for those of us on the streets
One Christmas, I was in Regina and absolutely starving. I dropped into a hotel to try and warm up and they fed me a huge Christmas Dinner. It was the first time I felt full in a long time. After this, I decided to try and go home. I managed to hitch a ride to my hometown, but when I got there, instead of seeing my family I went straight to my local drug dealer. This is when I realized how much control addiction had on my life.
I wanted to be free from addiction, but it’s hard to change your life when you are weak from hunger and the places you go for the necessities of life are surrounded by people stuck in the same cycles as you. It’s nearly impossible! I am grateful for the influence of my Grandma and her friend in my life, who helped me get to the Calgary Dream Centre.
I felt a sense of welcoming and belonging the moment I arrived. Having a safe place to sleep and food helped me get sober. It gave me strength to separate myself from the lifestyle and patterns I was caught in to survive. I went through the Recovery Program, which gave me the tools I needed to get my life back.
Home to me now, is so much more than just the place I lay my head. It’s a place where I can think, debrief, relax, eat meals, and not have to worry about danger. The Dream Centre has become my home. I’m welcome here and I’m surrounded by friends here who have been through similar situations to what I have been through. Together, all of us are building a new life.
Part of my new life is going back to school to become an addictions worker. I’m one month away from graduating! I currently work at the Dream Centre as an Operation Support Worker, and I enjoy getting to work with the other residents in the building. I treat each one like a friend and support them the best I can. The Lord says that what the enemy intended for evil, He will use for good. I believe He is using the evil in my life and is turning it for good by the way I can now help others with my experience and schooling.
This year, I look forward to not having to look for a place to warm up this Christmas. I’m grateful I do not have to worry about whether I’m going to be able to eat or spend the night in the cold outside. This is the first Christmas I have been excited for in nearly a decade, because I know I’ll be around people who care for me.