Rachel: A Place to Call Home

Rachel spent most of her elementary school years in foster care while her single dad struggled with alcohol addiction. It was not until her pre-teen years that she and two sisters lived with their dad full-time. Until then, it had been a life that alternated between living with their dad, and living in care.

By age 14, Rachel had experienced a few years of stable home life, but the cycle of living in and out of home started again. For the next couple years she went between living with boyfriends and their families, to being back home with her dad.

Homeless with a Child

2015-02-19 12.56.37At 17, while in a relationship with a youth named Scott, Rachel got pregnant. When their son James was born, Rachel recalls “having to live with my brother and them for a bit because we got evicted from the place we were in. And then social workers (Child Protection Services) tried putting us in a family shelter but we ended up going back to [my brother’s and my sister’s places].“

Rachel and her young family ate once at the family shelter, but they preferred to stay at her sister’s, even though the place was very crowded: five families – 15 people – living together in a four-bedroom house. “The house was pretty much full,” Rachel recalls. “It was really chaotic.”

In spite of these conditions, Rachel didn’t want to stay in a shelter. “That would have been my first time … and I didn’t want to be there.” At 17, a new mom and homeless, she wanted to be with her family for support.

A Place to Call Home

Eventually, Rachel, Scott, and James found a small one bedroom apartment of their own. But her sisters fell onto tough times, so they and their children eventually moved into Rachel’s place.

At this point Rachel was 19 years old. “I was three years sober and eventually I had the urge to go out again. So I did. And somebody that didn’t like me ended up reporting it, and after hours (Child Protection Services) came by and took [James].”

Turning Point

After James was apprehended, Rachel’s life “got really unstable.” Her relationship with Scott ended and Rachel, unable to make rent on her own, found herself homelessness again. She stayed at several shelters or in shared-living arrangements. “Every time I would live with somebody it would last up to three months,” she recalls. “I would end up moving out because of the way everything is. Just the people I was living with, it was just too chaotic.” Sometimes she stayed with friends; other times she slept outside. “In the summer time I didn’t mind staying outside, it was warm.”

Spiral in a Bottle

Empty bottles_2722787101_041ab6bd22_zMoney from welfare and Labour Ready helped pay for her drinking. She found places to eat – when she did eat – through word of mouth.

Working was hard while struggling with addiction. She recalls feeling too sick from the drinking or being already drunk when work was to start. Most times she“only got two hours of sleep… and by the end of the day …would be really cranky.” Being sleep deprived, hung over, and homeless, alcohol was her way of coping.

Finding Food

dark_alley_bigDuring these difficult years Rachel says she survived on “coffee and water—I didn’t really need to eat. I didn’t eat when I was hung over, and I didn’t eat during the time I was drinking. So, I was basically on a liquid diet.” She would have days where she would binge eat but go back to relying on liquids.

One resource that helped Rachel meet her hunger needs was a program of the Boys and Girls Clubs called Odyssey II. “It’s kind of like a small food bank, where they put a whole bunch of food-bank type of food in one grocery bag and pick it up on Wednesdays… just go in and ask for it. Even if you’re too old, they still give it to you.”

Getting Clean

In December 2014 Rachel decided to change her drinking habits. She made a plan to wean herself and not quit “cold turkey.” Once she obtained a stable living situation, she found it easier to quit. She is now six weeks sober and ready to explore career options. She is working towards reuniting with her son, James.

bottles smashing 690341-01-08“I haven’t seen him in four or five years. I didn’t want him to see me the way I seen my parents. I mean it was never easy on me… I remember my brother and dad fighting when we were playing in the backyard. I have big memories and I don’t want James to remember me that way. So I stayed away. Now I’m ready to see him again.”

Now 25 years old, Rachel recognizes that her alcohol addiction posed the barrier to obtaining stable housing: “The house would turn into like a party house…things breaking or the place getting really trashed; people fighting. So yeah, it was mostly the alcoholism.”

Housing: The Key

Stable housing was key for Rachel’s recovery. It gave her a predictable, consistent foundation from which to heal and build. Youth Services, and Broadway Youth Resource Society provide services up to age 24 so Rachel has now aged out of these supports. The hope is that she will remain connected to other resources that will continue to support her recovery.

Are you, or do you know, a youth struggling with addiction or homelessness? Dial 2-1-1 anytime, text 211 between 3:30 pm and 11:00 pm, or visit the Red Book Online to connect with a variety of community resources.