Living With the Fallout of a Family Breakdown and Subsequent Homelessness

facing homelessness

“I really miss my dad today. More than usual. I know that if he were still here, still alive. If they were still here, I wouldn’t be going through any of this.”

It’s a familiar statement that echoes throughout the homeless sector. A young woman amid turmoil, lost in emotional upheaval and struggling to provide for her children. With immense responsibility falling on her shoulders to climb mountains and kick doors open, she worries about what the future will look like for her kids.

An unexpected heartbreak coupled with financial debt and a domestic devolution that saw her without a roof over her head, Kayla is just like so many others stuck in the vortex of homelessness.

Except on this day, all she wants is to hug her long-departed father. To be his little girl again. To lean on him to talk her through the situation. Someone to stand up for her and her children against a system that presents more barriers than solutions.

If you come from a small urban or rural community, Kayla’s story is familiar in more ways than one.

“I’ve been in Brockville my whole life,” Kayla said. “I live here. I’m from here. And this is my first time on the streets of my city without protection from the world. It is very emotional and incredibly overwhelming.”

“All I do is cry all the time. My kids are so messed up from it all,” Kayla continued, referring to her three children impacted by the breakdown of her family unit. “I work all the time, and I seldom, if ever, have a full day off.”

Kayla’s situation dispels the long-standing myth that those struggling with poverty and homelessness are there based on their own choices and lack of motivation.

“I was working three jobs and never really got to see my children. The kids stayed at a friend’s house while I walked the street. If it weren’t for the kindness of friends, my family would be broken up by now,” she said. “Last week, my friend, who is currently working with my family to keep the kids safe and secure, had been letting me stay over so I can see my kids.”

She pauses with muted angst as she explains that seeing her children and feeling powerless to help them is emotionally debilitating.

“Right now, I spend every available moment trying to find a place for me and my kids to call home. I search on Kijiji, I look on Facebook, I ask friends for guidance. I go to visit every apartment building I can get to by foot. And yes, I’m still looking!”

Returning to her main concern, Kayla talks openly about the pain of her children not being in her care.

“Me and my kids have never been apart from each other, and it’s so hard to wrap my mind around how this happened and the consequences of this disaster. All I do is cry, and my kids sometimes think that I don’t want them, that I don’t love them anymore. But my children are my everything, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep them safe,” she said. “It might be a hard time right now, but I am hopeful that my luck will change.”

As fall temperatures drop and the days become shorter, the worries of Kayla’s first winter on the streets of her hometown, and her first fractured Christmas without her children keep her on edge.

“It was starting to get cold when my friend let me start staying with my kids in their home,” Kayla said. “It isn’t a permanent fix. And it is a struggle to know what steps to take and how to maintain that relationship. I gave up everything because I had to, and now the kids and I have nothing at all that is safe or sustainable.”

Reflecting out loud, Kayla wears her emotions on her face.

“I have three kids, and all I want is my kids to have the best life they can—one free of mental, physical, and emotional abuse. My children seeing me get arrested in the midst of a domestic dispute was never a part of my plan.”

Kayla recalls that fateful evening painfully, explaining that the police services had to act quickly to de-escalate the situation, which meant not having the time allocated for Kayla to find someone of her choosing to take the kids into temporary care. She felt the defeat of having to wait for Children Services to interject. She felt the pain of waiting for the local agency to get a hold of her so that she could see her kids again.

“My kids are so hurt and so scared,” she said. “They are too afraid to even go outside,” referring to the anxiety of interacting with people from their past life, back when things felt normal and safe. “I am scared for their long-term mental health. I want them to go speak with someone, but I’ve never been in this position before, and I’m not even sure where to start with finding the right agency to support them.”

“Right not, I’m not working as steady as I was,” Kayla said. “But I am looking for a job every day when I’m not looking for an apartment.” She notes how challenging it is to apply for an apartment without being able to prove a steady source of income.

Kayla divulges an ugly reality that has affected her in ways she has never experienced before.

Feeling responsible for the well-being of her children and feeling responsible for the magnitude of this circumstance, she explains that she is rapidly losing weight.

“I often go without eating so that my kids can eat. I have lost so much weight that my friends are worried about me,” she said. “Before becoming homeless, my best friend could never wrap her arms around me. Although now, she can, and she often tells me that she is worried about me. She is scared for me because of how much weight I’ve lost, but ultimately, the kids come before me, and they always will.”

Returning to a familiar theme through this discussion, she pauses to collect her thoughts and attempts to control her emotions when thinking of her kids.

“I feel like I have failed my kids. And it hurts so bad that they have to go through this. I never wanted this for them or for them to feel as much pain as they feel. I left with a half-filled bag of my clothes, and I’m starting from scratch. It just hurts so much.”

Often in complicated domestic situations, there are inevitably two sides to each story. Guilt resonates in all parties involved. Recognizing the complexities, Kayla doesn’t relinquish the blame she feels is hers to carry.

“I know what I did was wrong when I said things in anger that I can never take back, but I was at my breaking point. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Our private life fell apart, and he moved on. And I resented him for that,” she said. “I said things I can never take back, and now I am without a place to call home.”

Domestic violence comes in all forms, and the fallout and consequences are felt in heavy ways.

Now, forced out into the wind and rain, Kayla doesn’t seem to lose sleep thinking about who is to blame and how uncomfortable she feels. Instead, she looks up at the stars and worries about her children’s futures.

Will Kayla bounce back, or is resilience harder to muster on an empty stomach?

“If it wasn’t for my kids being here, and if I didn’t have them, there would be no reason for me to be here anymore,” she said. “Some days, I just want to give up, but I know I can’t because my kids need me.”

She pauses with tears in her eyes and a quiver in her voice. “But some days are just so hard that I can’t handle it anymore.”

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 former 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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