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Finding home

Lolley

Homelessness can happen to anyone. In grade nine, I was a ballet dancer living a relatively normal life with my mother, grandfather and brother. But shortly after my 15th birthday, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She died four months later.

I didn’t like being at home—every room held the memory of her. I spent weeks at my boyfriend’s house, partying and doing things a 15-year-old shouldn’t. Just after my 16th birthday, my grandfather told me he was leaving the country and gave me one month to move out.

I moved from family to friend, city to city, until I had nowhere to go. After 10 months, I found myself on the streets. I felt alone, like the whole world was out to get me. I stole caffeine pills to help me stay awake for as long as possible, then I’d sleep for about two hours in a staircase in my best friend’s building. After 12 days of sleeping on the streets, I got a bed in a youth shelter. I was relieved to have a roof and food, but I was still scared. I started using drugs and alcohol to cope.

Then, a friend brought me to a United Way-funded drop-in centre, where I made friends my own age. A staff member helped me find stable affordable housing in a friendly, non-toxic environment. I am forever thankful. The drop-in centre is like a family away from home. Having mentors means I have people who support me and listen, no matter what. I'm never judged and they always point me in the right direction.

Now I’m 18, healthy, happy and sober. I started counselling, I’m teaching myself yoga and meditation, and I’m in the drama program at the drop-in centre. I've learned to find happiness in the small things, like the first sip of coffee in the morning. Without this centre, I would probably still be in the shelter system, struggling with drug addiction issues—or worse, dead. Instead, I’m on my way to graduating high school and plan to become a child and youth worker, so I can help kids like me.

- Jasmine
United Way program participant