From the Streets to a Roof over His Head – Blaine’s Story
“It’s a dog eat dog world when you live on the streets. You have to worry about being robbed in the middle of the night,” says Blaine, 46. “I was scruffy and edgy. I started to believe nobody wanted to employ me. I can’t believe how much has changed in my life. Today, I have lots of hope.” Blaine also shares how beautiful Victoria is now that he is able to see it through new eyes − one with a job, a home and enough to eat.
Blaine moved to Victoria when he was 10. It was six years later when most teenagers are studying for finals, earning their driver’s license or applying for their first job; Blaine was living on the streets, fighting to survive, moving from shelter to soup kitchen to drop-in centre and sleeping on the sidewalk.
In his early 20s while visiting in Alberta, Blaine learned about labour pools and how he could be employed while living on the street. “My uncle and I went on jobs together. I learned a lot of construction skills from him that have helped me land work with the Cool-Aid Community Casual Labour Pool. The best advice he ever told me is if I’m ever stuck to find a labour pool – they are in almost every town.”
Even though his uncle exposed him to labour pool concept, it was a friend while panhandling together that told Blaine about Cool-Aid’s labour program, funded by United Way. Participating for over 15 years now, Blaine is finding out he is a people person again.
He enjoys the diversity of the work and the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day because he has money in his pocket. Cool-Aid staff know his strengths and respect him for his skill set. His jobs have varied from working for a moving company, fork lift driving, renovating houses and landscaping. He even secured a full-time job for four years.
It takes a network of community services to help bring financial stability and independence to individuals living on the streets. There are approximately 175 emergency shelter beds available for adults in Greater Victoria and in 2012, there were over 1,600 adults looking for somewhere to sleep. Finding access to safe and affordable housing is a challenge for people who are homeless and work for low wages.
In Blaine’s case four years ago he was one of 12 men living on the streets while working who got subsidized housing through Pacifica Housing and United Way. His damage deposit and first month’s rent were covered and for one year his rent was partly funded.
Adjusting to a roof over his head was hard for Blaine. There was no noise, no people walking by and no-one trying to rob him. He slept on the floor for three weeks in his new apartment. It was a roller coaster of emotions. He still wanted to be part of the homeless community as that was all he knew. The labour pool was a good distraction.
“Finally I got use to saying I’m going home – it’s cold out. About 80% of my friends are now housed but several have died. We still see each other for breakfast once a week at one of the drop-in centres. My social circle has expanded to include employers and other people I meet in the casual labour pool.”
When looking back on his life Blaine says United Way has been a pillar of hope and thanks donors for investing in people that are looking for opportunities to improve their situation. “By telling my story it could help point someone in a different direction. There are lots of resources to reach out to in the community. United Way was a big one for me.”