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Finding a way forward

Portrait photo of Joanne.

There was a time in my life when I felt completely hopeless. I struggled with unemployment, homelessness and poverty while trying to care for three young kids—all while my husband was in prison. It all started when I sustained a serious injury to my knee. My job was very physically demanding, and I was suddenly unable to work. I became unemployed. Within a couple of months, my three kids and I were evicted from our home and had nowhere to go. I will never forget the overwhelming feeling that I had failed my family in the most basic way: I was unable to keep a roof over our heads. We stayed in hotels for a short time, but our money quickly ran out. Luckily, we found space in a shelter, and my kids and I stayed there for nine months.

My husband had been in conflict with the law shortly before all this happened, so things had been hard for a while. He had been released from a detention centre to a halfway house, and we suddenly lost contact with him. We went from speaking to him on a daily basis to not at all because his parole officer was unwilling to facilitate communication. This change in routine was really hard on all of us. The situation became unbearable overnight. My youngest, who was seven at the time, was so distraught that he tried to take his own life. It was devastating. Thankfully he survived and today he is a successful high schooler, an avid runner and has a robust social life.

When we were living at the shelter I was put in touch with a United Way-supported agency that was hiring. They had a social enterprise that sold coffee, and I got a job with them. That job ended up opening up many doors for me. I got another job with a pilot program that was offered through the same agency. Having an income, renewed confidence and emotional support helped me get back on my feet. I was able to move out of the shelter and into a home with my kids, and my husband was finally able to join us, too.

Today I work as a counsellor for the same agency that helped my family out when we were struggling. It’s a very demanding job and, on the days I’m in the office, I commute for more than three hours a day. It’s really hard to manage my kids, pets, husband, life and my caseload. On top of it all, I am a Type 1 diabetic and am immunocompromised. But despite the COVID-19 pandemic and my risk factors, I still make the daily trek to work.

I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. I’m so grateful to these agencies for the support they’ve given my family over the years. I look back on my time living in a shelter and can intensely remember feeling that I was failing my kids, how hard it was to be unemployed, and how I felt sad and hopeless every day.

The generosity I experienced made a very real difference in my life. It’s because of these agencies I can look at where my family is today—somewhere I never even imagined as a possibility in the past—and know that we are going to be OK.

- JOANNE
United Way program participant