By Carole Fawcett
Sitting across from me at the Upper Room Mission is Mary. It is easy to see that her teeth are missing; but it doesn’t stop her from smiling. Her soft eyes measure you with each piece of information she shares.
Mary’s 35 years on this earth have been a long and unimaginably difficult journey. Up until the age of four, she lived with her parents on a Carrier Nation reserve in Smithers, BC. She now lives on the street. All her worldly belongings can be pulled behind her bike.
“People think it is an easy life, living on the street, but if people were in my shoes, they have to ask themselves what would they do?”
Mary walks or bikes five to eight miles in order to have breakfast, lunch or supper during the week at the Upper Room Mission. She can also have a shower and do her laundry there as well. She frequently misses breakfast due to the length of the trip from where she currently lives, and if overnight there has been a fresh snowfall.
By choice, she lives in a 9-person tent, on private land, just outside of Vernon with her boyfriend. They have managed to set up a safe-from-the-elements tent space, with wooden pallets, blankets, candles and a propane heater. She says they are warm enough. She doesn’t want to live at a Shelter, as she shares they are scary places full of drama and “your stuff gets stolen.” She prefers the tent life for now as she says she “feels safer and it is less stressful.”
She had to administer Naloxone to another street person, but has never had to have it used on her. She has three Naloxone kits and they are never far away from her.
She started to use drugs at age 13 (crack cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, alcohol). She spent seven years in one foster home, but when the foster Dad died, she and her brothers were separated. One of her brothers has since died of a Fentanyl overdose. She then spent time in 14 different foster homes and says she was angry and difficult to get along with, having been sexually abused many times as a teenager. She was sent to an alternative school down at the coast for teenagers who had behavioral challenges.
She said she was “heavy into crystal meth” from age 18 to 23, calling them “my party years.” She met her husband in a shelter and together they had four children. She has three sons and a daughter. Her sons live in foster care and her daughter is with her ex in Northern BC. Her daughter is five years old and Mary says, “my little girl is my life.”
She hasn’t spoken to her daughter for quite a while, but she has tried. She says she would love to be back with her family. This is her third winter living on the street. She was embarrassed when she shared that she has to steal things in order to survive sometimes and she feels really bad about that, “but ya gotta do what ya gotta do to survive, and I won’t panhandle.”
At the moment, Mary uses crystal meth and heroin.
She is relieved and looking forward to having her own place when the new housing facility on 33rd street is finished. It means she won’t have to spend a fourth winter in the tent. She hopes that having her own space will help her to find peace in her life with the opportunity to stop using the drugs.