EDITOR’S NOTE: The Viola’s Place Society is currently fundraising in an attempt to purchase the building that once housed the LifeShelter. Their deadline is April 30. In an effort to inform people on the issue of homelessness in Pictou County, The News has reached out to people who have first-hand experience either by living on the streets or who live life on the brink of it. For more information on how you can help Viola’s Place become reality visit Viola’s Place Society through its Facebook page or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be made at any Scotiabank in Pictou County.
Cindy is not homeless.
She has food in her belly and a roof over head, but she knows too well about being homeless in Pictou County.
For years, her days have been filled with constant worry as she checks her cellphone regularly to see if a particular family member needs her help or just wants to talk.
“I would get phone calls in the middle of the night and they would say, ‘It has happened again,’ and I would say, ‘Are you OK?’ and the phone would go silent and I was left worrying.”
Cindy is cautious about telling her story because she doesn’t want to draw any more attention to her family member than is needed. She won’t use her real name and won’t identify the family member, but she wants Pictou County to know that people in these situations are loved.
“I want the ones going through on the streets to not think that their families aren’t thinking about them,” she said. “I have had many sleepless nights and days when I wouldn’t talk to anyone, but you have to go through life.”
Cindy says her family member has been on the streets since early in life. There wasn’t one particular reason why her loved one became distanced, but once on the streets, it was a life full of heartbreak, abuse, drugs and uncertainty.
People would tell Cindy to give up on the person. Often people would say, they don’t want her help so why is she continuing to try and help them?
“I would say to them, ‘Something can happen in your life. You could get sick or lose your home or job and where would you be?’ It makes me so frustrated inside.”
There have been days when she even told herself that she was done.
“I would say, ‘I can’t handle this anymore and I have to be done.’ People would say leave them alone, but they are my world. I will not stop because they are mine.”
Cindy has made regular phones calls to the hospital and police wondering if her loved one is OK after not hearing word for days. She has called the person’s friends and walked through buildings searching.
“I would call the police and they would say, ‘They are in a safe place right now.’ I would say, ‘Right now, but what about five minutes from now?’”
When she can’t help her own family, Cindy tries to help others. She donates her time volunteering with local non-profits or takes time out of her day to brighten the day of someone else in need.
“People say, don’t give them money, but if you don’t want to give money, let them know people do have hearts.”
Rarely a day goes by that her own emotions are not high. She cries regularly and has tried tough love in the past in hopes of having her loved one turn things around. Sometimes it worked, but it would last for a short time and then she would lose contact again.
“God only gives you what you can handle and he could slacken off sometimes, but you deal with it.”
Sometimes it takes an arrest to be that wakeup call and then she is supporting them at court dates and lawyer appointments.
Today, Cindy can reach her loved one because the person has chosen to fight addiction and try to put the past behind. She hasn’t lived on the streets herself, but she can identify the problems keeping people there.
She said there is not enough low-income housing for people in the county who are barely surviving on social assistance. Her loved one is living in a space that is less than desirable, receiving just over $500 a month for housing and utilities on social assistance.
Cindy has sat through government appointments and knows that nothing happens right away and without support some people might never apply for help because they can’t navigate the system alone.
Even when people do decide to go through addiction programs, they need a safe place to go to after release so as not to fall back into old habits.
She said she is thankful for the temporary shelter but the one being proposed by Viola’s Place Society could be so much more on a permanent basis.
“A shelter would be non-judgmental,” she said. “They could get in there and meet people.”
She said she would also like to see the shelter be a place for families to meet with loved ones.
“The need is here. I see people walking the streets and a lot of people blame families, and in one or two cases that might be true, but with a lot of families, they don't know what to do. This could be a place where families could come together.”