Walking past Waterfront station I came across a smiling women sitting watching the world go by on her day off. I was greeted with open arms from Maggie who began sharing with me her stories of overcoming homelessness and addiction. I always love sharing stories of recovery as I think they provide hope and inspiration to everyone, addict or not.
Maggie shared with me that she has been living on the Eastside of Vancouver for the last 15 years in the same house. Her, her cat and 43 other men live in the apartment building that she is so grateful to call home. She laughed as she told me how lucky she is to be apart of the community.
Maggie reflected however, that life hadn't always been that great for her. When Maggie was 18 she moved from Ontario to British Columbia in search of work. She had a job and a place around Commercial drive, but after the passing of family members she began to be a closet user which really had a toll on her life. "It was quite sad actually" she stated as she reflected back on her times of hiding her addiction. When the place she was subletting fell through and it seemed that there was no where else to go she decided that she would try homelessness.
So Maggie took the streets as a single homeless women, an experience she describes to be terrifying. Maggie set up camp in the Kits beach area and was constantly moving from place to place as people would find her or the police would tell her it was time to move onto the next spot. "I was the person in the back alleys doing heroin" she explained. "I was heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol always,self medicating" she said. When I asked her when the turning point for her was she shared that it was a freezing, cold night around Thanksgiving and she was "sick and tired of being sick and tired". Since that night, with a few bumps in the road she has been sober for 30 years.
She had set off to find help, where she found safe and secure supportive housing that she now calls home. She describes the Downtown Eastside, as many do, to be a vibrant, supportive community where people look out for each other. Her experience in her place has been nothing but positive and for that she is incredibly grateful.
Maggie and I chatted about the topic of gentrification and when I asked her thoughts on it, she had very powerful insights. She explained how it creates a divided community, it's not inclusive and creates an us and them sort of mentality. "We're all people" she shared. Something that I agree with wholeheartedly. It's so important that we treat people as our equals, not as being below us and not as charity cases.
Maggie shared with me that when she was younger she thought she wouldn't see the day that she turned thirty, yet there she was sitting beside me at the age of sixty. "I doubled it!" she proclaimed as the two of us laughed. Maggie's love for life is radiant and inspiring. She was beaming with pride as she shared how grateful she is for the people who gave her meaningful work to and trusted her with it. I hope you can all take some inspiration and understanding away from Maggie's powerful journey just like I did.