After living rough, Tanya stayed in a St. Thomas shelter for four months – a “humbling, very eye-opening experience” – before moving into the 21-bed Women’s Residence.
“Homelessness can happen to anyone. I’m the perfect example,” said Tanya, who lives at the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin Women’s Residence. “I didn’t come from child abuse or poverty. I got a job right out of college and worked full time for years. I had a house, had a marriage.”
She had separated from her first husband and was in a different relationship and working 48 hours a week in an office when COVID-19 turned life upside down.
“Everything was fine, until it just wasn’t,” she said, noting she also separated from her partner during the pandemic. “I suffered a bit of an emotional breakdown and that’s what led me to be homeless.”
“The tough days will pass and the good days will continue.” See how YWCA of St. Thomas-Elgin – an agency supported by United Way Elgin Middlesex – creates a safe place for people to land.
Poverty looks different in smaller communities, said Michelle Mantle, Adult Housing Based Case Manager, who lived in Toronto before moving to St. Thomas.
“In big cities, there are several community centres, food banks in different areas … more housing,” she said. “Here, there’s only one food bank and the bus system only goes certain places — and in the evenings there is no bus service.”
Mantle recalled the drastic change in St. Thomas during pandemic shutdown.
“Suddenly people were coming out on the streets, people out there with their shopping carts and doing drugs right out in the open,” said Mantle.
“It was also an eye-opener for people who thought St. Thomas didn’t have a housing problem or an addictions problem.”
Since her time living on the streets of St. Thomas, Tanya has gone from receiving services and basic needs kits, to volunteering for an outreach group that passes them out. She credits the environment, the support staff and the other residents who she lives with at the Women’s Residence.
“Coming to the Y for the first time was a blessing. It was comfortable, clean, I had safety, my own room, privacy, food.”
Within six months, Tanya says she met her “first goal,” which was to find a new job. She was starting to save up for rent.
“Things are looking up. I have hope.”