“Today I am clean, we have a roof over our head and I am happier than I have ever been.”
The YES Shelter for Youth and Families provides emergency shelter to about 25 families each year. Most often it is a catastrophic event such as a flood, fire or family break up that leaves families without a home. In recent years, bed bugs have become a reason for people to leave their rental accommodation. This past year, YES worked with a family of three who moved from the YES Shelter into a new apartment, only to return to the shelter within days, covered in bed bug bites. When they returned to their rental apartment a few days later, the minimal spraying conducted by the landlord had not solved the problem. The landlord refused to refund their last month’s rent. This family stayed at YES for weeks longer while the working father saved up last month’s rent again and YES’ case management staff helped them find a new apartment. The family now has a fresh start: “We pretty much had to start over with nothing, but we are slowly getting there. Today I am clean, we have a roof over our head and I am happier than I have ever been. I don’t know what we would have done without the YES Shelter”. Your donations and volunteer support enable YES to stretch our resources when a family’s circumstances demand a longer stay.
Tammy is a past family resident who shared her story at our Annual General Meeting in June. It was so touching, we want to share it with you. Here is her speech, in her words:
“I truly believe everything happens for a reason. Every place you go, every person you meet, every job, even every struggle you have is part of a plan.
I’ve had my share of struggles, from anorexia, bulimia, to addiction. I’ve been battling demons since I was 15 years old. My name is Tammy. I’m 39 years old. I have a 14 year old son named Dylan from a previous relationship who lives with his father. In 2007 I made the hardest decision of my life to let Dylan go live with his Dad when I went to rehab, but we’ve never been closer so I know I made the right decision. Four years later, I met Paul and after 2 years, we had a daughter named McKenzie who is now 4 years old.
Last year was probably the hardest time of my life. My mom was diagnosed with cancer, and after visiting my mom in the hospital, I contracted Impetigo. Impetigo is a skin infection that attacked my face and body and it left me emotionally, mentally and physically scarred from head to toe. I had to go off work and I barely left the house but after a couple of months my face started to heal so I did. Unfortunately, we got behind on our rent waiting for EI so we placed an ad on Kijiji looking for a new place to live. It wasn’t long before someone responded to our ad.
We found a house for rent in Cobourg and it sounded too good to be true. In the end it was. One week before we had to move out of our apartment, we found this Christian family who was renting out their home was all part of a scam. We didn’t give them any money but we were left homeless.
Being homeless took its toll on our relationship so we decided to take a break for a bit. I had heard horror stories about shelters so Kenzie and I lived at a motel for a month but when the money ran out I had no choice but to go to Shelter X. It was exactly what I had expected. I did all of my laundry which cost $40 before I went into the shelter and I had to rewash it again. I brought totes for my clothes but was told they couldn’t come in the house and had to keep my stuff in garbage bags since there was no dressers. We slept on a gym mat and were given a crunchy pillow each and had to stand to eat my meals because there wasn’t enough chairs for everyone. Kenzie couldn’t bring any toys and the toys they had were all broken and so were we. I cried myself to sleep and felt so alone. The second night I was there, a Co-op student asked to check my purse when I came in and I gladly handed it to her. He pulled out 2 Tylenol that were loose at the bottom of my purse and treated me like I was a criminal. Without warning he asked me to leave.
I have a diploma in Social Services and couldn’t imagine treating another human being, who is down on their luck, the way I was treated. At 12am I was crying on the phone to my sister. He was going to pull the plug out of the phone unless I got off the phone. I wasn’t allowed to get my stuff until the following day. I waited on the steps for my cab with tears in my eyes and nobody came out to see if I was okay. I will never forget that moment. It was very awful and a very humbling time in my life.
Kenzie and I moved in with Paul, his mom and her boyfriend. It was in the middle of nowhere and neither of us drove so we couldn’t work. We decided we were going to move to Peterborough and start over but after my experience at Shelter X, we were terrified.
Wyatt was the first person I talked to (at YES) and after 15 minutes and a few laughs, I knew there was something about this place. The ride to Peterborough was tough on Paul, he cried the whole way there. The only thing he knew about shelters was what I had told him about my experience. He hadn’t been with me, in fact he’d never been in a shelter at all.
Brenda and Sarah were the first staff we met. They made us feel right at home. Paul was the first to see our room and when he came to the office to get our bags I saw his face and knew everything was going to be alright.
The bed was so comfortable. We had a T.V., dresser and soft pillows. I laid on the bed and a big weight lifted off me. Every day we met different staff and every day, a piece of me came back. I was happy; I was homeless, but I was happy and so was my family. I felt very connected to the teens and at one point was referred to as the “House Mama” and it made me realize that this is somewhere I would love to work someday.
The staff at YES are amazing, they work together as a team and it shows. The food was also amazing, so much so that I gained 10lbs during our stay. After a month at the shelter, Paul found a full-time job working for Rogers and a month later, we found an apartment close to Paul’s work. On January 12, we moved into our new place and 2 days later, we were covered in bites. I had heard horror stories about bed bugs but never did I think it would happen to us. We notified the landlord right away and an exterminator came the following week. We called YES and asked if we could come back while they sprayed and Ruby welcomed us back. We stayed for about 2 weeks so we could clean up from the chemicals they had sprayed.
We moved back to our place thinking the bed bugs were gone- boy were we wrong. We lived at the apartment for a total of 8 days. The landlord refused to give us our money back. We spent over $600 of our own money to get our apartment ready to spray which included buying 80 garbage bags, spray for our bed, caulking for the base boards. We had put our cat in the kennel for a week and we had to wash everything we own before and after they sprayed and we had spent hours to clean up after the spray. Emotionally and mentally we were exhausted.
We did all of this for nothing and once again, we were left broken. The bed bugs won the fight. We walked back to the shelter and asked Ruby if we could come back once again. The staff were having a meeting so Suzanne and Wyatt were there that day and without question, they said yes. We didn’t know what to do at this point. Our last month’s rent was gone and we had to leave our stuff at the apartment because we couldn’t afford another rental truck and storage unit.
Shortly after we came back the third time, we met Maureen and I felt an instant connection with her. She always took the time to listen when I had concerns. She helped us find funding for our last month’s rent and researched some listings for some affordable apartments. It took us another 3 months to find a place and when I went to go look at one, Maureen came with me for moral support. Our credit is bad so we’ve been turned down by almost every apartment we looked at. When we went to look at it, I was so excited but also knew in the back of my head we probably wouldn’t get it. I’ve been so disappointed so many times that I was prepared to hear “no”. Our landlord didn’t even check our references or credit, she went on a gut feeling and when I got the call that said we got the apartment, I cried. All I ever wanted was for someone to give us a break. We’re good people, we don’t drink, we don’t party; all we ever wanted was a place to call a home.
3 months later, here we are. I have a beautiful apartment on the water, but more importantly, no bed bugs. We ended up leaving our belongings behind, so we wouldn’t bring the bugs with us. We pretty much had to start over with nothing. Slowly but surely, we are getting there. Today I am clean, I don’t worry about my weight, I have a roof over our head, an amazing boyfriend , two beautiful children and I’m happier than I have ever been.
I don’t know where we would have done without the YES Shelter. I am honoured to be standing here today to share my story and I’m so grateful for everything the YES Shelter has done for me and my family. Thank you Suzanne, Wyatt and the staff at YES for helping my family get back on our feet. You are an amazing team of people. I’d also like to thank the bed bugs, because without you, I never would have found our new place. Thanks again and thank you for listening.”