Young Mother Shares Her Experience with Youth Homelessness

Selena shares experience with homelessness and substance abuse recovery

A new mother in recovery from a young lifetime of substance use, homelessness, upheaval, and tragedy, Selena isn’t your average 20-something.

“Some destinations were of my own doing. Some weren’t. It was terrifying, but it made me who I am,” Selena said.

Selena is the first to admit that the skies have seldom been clear. But the born and bred Newfoundlander seems to accept the role she played in finding herself homeless.

“I was living at home with my mom after my dad had first died,” she said.  

Still reeling from the trauma of her father’s passing, Selena decided to leave home. Moving in with her then-boyfriend, Selena shares openly about a strained relationship with her then-landlord and others she lived with at the time.

“When I was living with my previous boyfriend, I had a good relationship with his roommates at first,” she said. “But it wasn’t always a simple living situation.”

Reacquainting herself with memories of misfortune, Selena acknowledges that the living arrangements were destined to fail.

A mixture of youthful disagreements, financial insecurity, and romantic maturing would see Selena fall into some less-than-desirable environments. It wasn’t long before Selena found herself housing compromised without a clear path forward.

Spiraling out of control and lacking guidance and familial support, Selena turned to dangerous coping mechanisms that only furthered her alienation from loved ones.

“I’ve been on the streets a couple of times,” Selena said. “I’m lucky that it’s never been for long periods but being under-housed reoccurred multiple times. For a few days or a week or so each time, I’d find myself wondering if my situation would ever improve.”

Being a youth plunged into homelessness and uncertainty on the streets of St. John’s can quickly take a toll.

Like many other cities and towns across Canada, St. John’s is struggling with a growing drug culture. Couple that with an intense backlog plaguing service providers, and Atlantic Canada can often prove to be a difficult place to experience addiction and find meaningful help.

“My family and friends didn’t recognize me,” Selena said, recalling her illicit substance use and emotional isolation. “I was deep into drugs. My family and friends begged me to come home, but I couldn’t.”

“They wanted me to return home to a sober life,” she continued. “And at that time, I thought that was impossible. Luckily, I was wrong.”

Like many young people healing from loss, Selena admitted her choices were not always flattering. Stability was impossible to maintain. And a drug-fueled life on the streets would only spell doom.

Selena eventually found herself back at her childhood home. Open to a second chance and ready for a change in direction, Selena was determined not to let a moment in her history permanently alter her future.

Fast forward to just a short time later, now with her own family, Selena shared her reservations about the possibility that her housing instability could re-emerge.

“Right now, it’s me, my fiancé, and my newborn son,” Selena said, noting that her mother has since moved out. “But my grandmother is our landlord, and we haven’t always had a good relationship. I depend on maintaining that relationship, but it’s far from ideal.”

“I’m still looking to find my own apartment that’s independent of family,” she said. “It’s hard because I don’t have any formal landlord references, making it hard to rent in a competitive housing market. Also, we cannot afford any of the few places that are available now.”

Life now looks very different for Selena. Enthusiastically, Selena credits some positive developments in her young life as changing the course of her life for the better. And while her housing insecurity plagues her thoughts, she refuses to let it deter her from her sobriety.

“I’m a mom and a fiancé. I’m engaged to a hardworking man that I love. I’m back in school and work full-time when I’m not on maternity leave,” she said. “I no longer must look over my shoulder every second, and I no longer have to worry about getting high or how to access my next fix.”

Sobriety remains a daily battle for all addicts. Selena continues taking the necessary steps to maintain her and her family’s health.

“I’m currently in a methadone program,” she said. “I go once a week to do my witness dose and get the rest brought home so I can focus on my family. I stay home with my son all day now.”

Recounting the impact that her substance use battle, her fractured relationships, and her episodes of youth homelessness have had on her, Selena expresses gratitude.

“In retrospect, I’m definitely stronger because of my past,” she said. “I’ve overcome a lot, and right now, I can say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t change it for anything, as it led me to this place. A place of perspective, wellness, sobriety, and growth.”

“Because of what I’ve been through,” she continued, “I’m able to help others as they overcome their own hard times. If I can do it, so can you.”

“I can teach my son so much more now than I would’ve been able to had I not gone through these experiences,” Selena said. “And I’m planning to do my part to make sure he never has to feel as alone as I did. All of this pain and sacrifice. It made me, well … me!”

“I’ve faced discrimination and judgment more times than I can count,” Selena continued. “People hear the term ‘recovering addict,’ and usually they stop listening after the word ‘addict. I find it really sad.”

“And I still get judged for being on methadone. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that I’m ‘not really sober’ and I’m ‘not really clean,’ like harm reduction makes you dirty somehow. But I know the difference, and I believe that the ones that matter know the difference, too.”

“I’ve made more sacrifices than I can count. And more than anyone could expect most young women to make at my age. I’m sacrificing my happiness living where I am right now,” she continued. “I know this isn’t a long-term fix and far from the ideal destination. But I am doing what I feel I need to do to ensure that my boy can be raised in a safe place until independence can be attained.”

“As I said, me and my grandmother have a complicated relationship. So, I truly can’t wait to get out of here and stand on my own two feet,” Selena said. “As much as we butt heads, she’s been a huge help considering our challenges. I’m grateful to all of my family for never giving up on me when they had every reason to do so. They were my rocks when I was crumbling.”

When asked about her goals, Selena hesitates to overindulge about what she hopes her future will hold; it takes a few attempts to get her to share her ambitions beyond independent living.

“There’s not much to tell about me,” she said.

Selena eventually opens up about her career aspirations, with her mind beginning to fixate on the future. “One day, I want to help people like I needed help. People like me. I want to either be a child psychologist or an addiction counselor.”

With hopes of one day building a future she and her son can be proud of, Selena doesn’t limit herself. Looking back on her journey, she is the first to give credit where she feels it is due. 

Getting to this place of wellness was a collaborative effort. It took good friends, a forgiving family, the support of agencies, and rapport with counselors, all focused on concentrated life changes. But there remains one person that she attributes much of her successful turnaround to.

“If it weren’t for my fiancé, I probably wouldn’t have survived. I’m lucky to be here and proud to be who I am today,” she said. “I’m proud to be the mother I am today and excited to become the wife I know I will be.”

“I’m proud to have overcome my past and turned my life around. I can’t wait to watch my son grow up and to one day grow our family,” Selena said. “I have a lot to look forward to. All I can hope is my dad will be looking down on me and watching with pride.”

Be sure to follow Selena on social media at @themommasel and be a part of her recovery and motherhood journey.

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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