Homeless in An Ontario Heatwave: Meet Elizabeth

homeless in Ontario

Homelessness looks different for everyone. Sometimes, the stereotypes so often associated with homelessness might fit the circumstances. Sometimes an individual struggles with substance use or a mental health disorder. Or, it might have been trouble with the law that led to their current situation. However, assuming one size fits all is seldom the case when dealing with people struggling against circumstances that lead to no fixed address.

Elizabeth_OntarioFor Elizabeth, her bout with homelessness was unexpected at first. But it seemed to cycle back and forth while she struggled to maintain a secure environment. At 32 years old, she found herself without a bed, without a plan, and without the comfort and safety she longed for. The vicious cycle of homelessness began again.

“I was living in Lyn, Ontario. It was a quiet place. I was comfortable, and I was happy,” she explained. “I had been living there for only about eight months or so when things went south.”

She explained that she had been living with long-time friends. As a roommate with people she trusted, she did not expect things to turn out so poorly. Her situation changed very fast.

“I was friends with these people for many years,” she explained. “They had a house, and it was me, the married couple, and their 8-year-old child all living there.” 

“How I originally ended up renting a room from my friend was that I had been struggling with homelessness at the time. I was living in my friend’s little Pontiac Sunfire two-door car – two other people and me with three cats, a big dog, and a hamster. It was definitely crowded in this car,” quipped Elizabeth, looking back on the turmoil. 

“One night, I drove through the drive-thru entrance of a local coffee shop, and my friend was working. She asked me to meet her after her shift, as she had a room that I was able to rent if I was interested,” explained Elizabeth. “And, of course, at this point, I was desperate. Without hesitation, I met her after work and said yes, I’d take the room she had for rent.”

This is not an uncommon situation for many people who find themselves struggling. Without thinking through potential outcomes or considering immediate costs or relationship damage, someone struggling might jump into a situation that is not right for them or those who initially wanted to help. This was the case for Elizabeth, as has been the reality for many others.

“Things ended up not working out, and I found myself without a place to call my own again. I wasn’t protected and didn’t have the security I needed. I found myself all alone,” she explained.

Elizabeth’s challenging relationship with her family added pressure to her complex situation.

“Simply put, I don’t have any family that I really speak to anymore. It’s been a few years since I’ve had them in my life regularly, and I don’t feel like I can turn to them. It feels like forever since I’ve last spoken with them.”

She divulges some of the less favorable complexities of their relationships, explaining that her family “always wanted me to help, but when I needed help, no one was there.” Whether true or based on perception, this hurt her. “It was always this way! I guess we just grew apart after my father passed away.”

She explained how her late father, Art, was a loving and passionate family man, making every effort to “keep the family together.” Elizabeth reminisced that Art was “definitely the glue to our family.”

Explaining the troubling dynamics of the relationship with her mother, she noted that the two hadn’t spoken since just two weeks after her late father’s passing.

“Watching her move on with her life and begin dating again was really hard on me. I loved my dad a lot. I know everyone did, but I also just see things differently, and I still have trouble picturing my life without him. Eventually, we just drifted apart.”

Elizabeth found herself with nothing more than a tent, her cat, and her dog Misty. Once again turning to friends for support, Elizabeth found herself in a place she had never been.

“The support I did find was through a girl that let me use her backyard to put my tent up. Her space was limited, but she did her best for me. She offered me her basement to sleep in when it was storming outside,” she explained. “I am grateful for that kindness and realize that many others aren’t quite as lucky.”

“She let me shower inside. She let me cook there when I had food worth cooking. And she was always there when I needed her,” Elizabeth explained fondly. “She even agreed to house my cat and let my dog be in her backyard. She was definitely a Godsend, who made the last number of months way more bearable for me.”

Elizabeth explained that the homeowner even held the few belongings that Elizabeth had left inside the home to keep them safe. This proved invaluable while Elizabeth focused on accumulating more items and saving for a new apartment.  

“When I had nowhere else to put the few things I had left in the world that were mine, she made sure that I wasn’t going to lose any more than what I already had.”

Being homeless in an Ontario summer is no cakewalk. The heat can be unbearable and further exacerbate an already uncomfortable situation.

“I was super depressed all the time,” she admitted. “It was so hot, and some days it was so hot that I was so miserable because I could not escape the heat.”

The heat took a toll on the totality of Elizabeth’s mental and physical health.

“It was exhausting knowing I would only get a little sleep because I was so uncomfortable. And the temperature inside the tent was super hot and incredibly humid every time the sun was out.”

Expressing the defeat she felt, Elizabeth explained that the summer temperatures became her worst enemy.

“Knowing I’d have to get up early to beat the heat wave and find shade was all that occupied my mind. Most days were super hot and sticky. Knowing that most days, I needed to wake up and tear down my tent, move it, and keep moving it repeatedly was extremely exhausting. This was the only shelter I had.”

Recalling her most challenging experiences while living in a tent, Elizabeth recalled one day that broke her spirit.

“I remember having a brand-new tent, and the crazy thunderstorms we had broke the tent, and everything was getting soaked. I had to take everything out of the tent, put it somewhere it wasn’t going to get wet, and take the tent down and return it to get a new one.” Elizabeth recalled, “I did it all in the storm. I’ll never forget walking into Walmart to return the tent that was soaking wet and dripping with water, and I too was soaking wet.”

The reality of a challenging housing market set in early for Elizabeth as she scoured online ads for affordable rentals, an experience that often left her in tears.

“I constantly messaged people about rooms for rent, and one-bedroom apartments for rent, even if they weren’t in Brockville. I would view as many places as I could,” which could be challenging on foot in a rural area. “After months of being homeless in extreme heat, I wasn’t giving up.”

“It was scary not knowing what would happen on some nights when I was all alone,” Elizabeth admitted. “But my dog was always with me and made me feel that I wasn’t going through this all alone. She was always right there by my side.” 

“Misty pushed me through the days I thought I was just going to lay there and cry. I know I was mentally drained, and I was emotionally exhausted. But I know now if I just laid there and slept, I wouldn’t have gotten where I needed to be. It took almost everything I had in me every day to keep going.”

Elizabeth recently found a new apartment. She recognizes that she is beginning a new journey and takes time to remember those who supported her along the way. 

“I’m very grateful for the people that supported me through this tough time,” she explained. “They gave me hope and cared when I felt like I had no one. They made sure I had food in my belly and somewhere I could go if I didn’t have a place to put my tent. I thank them all for being there most when I needed someone.”


Leigh Bursey

Leigh Bursey

        

Leigh Bursey is a 35 year old resident of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada. Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Leigh spent over twenty years in Ontario, where he was a three term former municipal councillor. Leigh is an International Best-Selling Author, an award-winning singer/songwriter and recording artist, actor, painter, and community organizer/policy advocate. Leigh is the co-founder of the Brockville Streetfriends and current lead for the Mount Pearl Streetfriends outreach networks. He is an International Chartered Housing Professional, a shelter worker, and a provincial Housing Officer. Leigh is a board member for the Canadian Housing Renewal Association and the National Alliance to End Rural and Remote Homelessness, and the LivEx Scholars With Lived Experience through Making The Shift. Leigh is a newlywed and a first-time homeowner. Leigh has lived experience with homelessness.

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