Reflections from Gael – How Renovating a Unit Showed Me Hope

*Please note that this article contains mention of sexual trauma as well as drug use – please take care.

I have been managing human service agencies for the majority of my working life, always with individuals who have struggles participating in mainstream society.  I have met individuals who have inspired me to become a better human being, people who have enriched my life in ways I would have never expected, and people who have humbled me by their gratitude for the ordinary things many of us take for granted. I’m very fortunate to be reminded that a day without snow or rain will mean a homeless person might be able to stay dry and warm, or being able to address someone by name might bring a smile that will stay with them (and me!!) all day. 

Along the way, I have met people who will forever be burned into my heart. I have also learned that everyone has a story. Today, I want to share with you Meghan’s story (please know that I have changed Meghan’s name for this story, while she consented to me telling her story, she still wants to protect a piece of herself).

Meghan was referred to SHOW about five years ago, as a young woman who had been barred from every shelter and housing facility in the Region. She was high acuity, which for a housing provider means serious issues surrounding substance use, diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues, behavioural challenges, and most likely a history of trauma.

We accepted her into 362 Erb, and for the first four years staff were met with a barrage of angry outbursts, threats, and raised fists, resulting in many serious incident reports.

It became apparent that injecting drugs regularly was how Meghan was dealing with her demons. I don’t typically become the direct support staff for a tenant, but in this case, I recognized the fear with which all of the staff now felt when having to interact with Meghan, who seemed unwilling, or perhaps, unable to accept their support.

At SHOW, we often function very much as a “family” to our tenants. By providing stability and structure, which many have never experienced, we offer a safe and supportive environment where our tenants feel comfortable, secure, and confident enough to start addressing the issues in their lives. It was clear to me that Meghan needed some “mothering”.

We started this by addressing her apartment. Meghan had destroyed most of her unit; walls with black paint scattered with messages of hate written on them, furniture that had been ruined during fits of rage, and most of her belongings were also damaged and in need of replacement – it needed a LOT of work.

Out came the home décor magazines, paint chips, and repair plans, and slowly – very slowly – she and I worked out a way to trust each other. She tells me her story in bits and pieces; the childhood sexual trafficking at the hands of her father, her acknowledging that her substance use started when she was only 7, after her father medicated her as a way to keep her quiet.

Over time I saw a change in not only Meghan’s apartment but in Meghan herself. The black paint is now gone replaced with light greys and assorted pastels. There are curtains that let in the sunlight, plants that she cares for, pictures on the wall of pretty things that make her happy, and most importantly of all there is a change in Meghan. She talks about plans for her future now, her drug use has almost all but disappeared, she has agreed to stop scaring staff and even stops to offer a good morning and a smile sometimes. And for all of us that know Meghan, when she does smile – she has the ability to light up a room.

Meghan is one of the people that I will carry with me forever, those pastel shades and grey color palette will forever remind me of Meghan and the change that I saw in her. I hope that when you see these colors, you too are reminded of all that is provided when you support SHOW – a safe and supportive environment where tenants are given the tools, resources, and support they need to address the various issues they may be experiencing.