May 15, 2023
I’ve Come a Long Way …
Janice was only 8 years old when her father died. The sudden loss coupled with rising political instability taking place in her home country of Jamaica, lead her mother to make the decision to bring Janice and her younger sister to Canada, eventually settling in Toronto. “My mom was worried for our safety and what opportunities we would have”. Aside from Janice’s aunt, who was already living in Mississauga, she knew nobody and would have to start all over again.
It was a challenging transition, but Janice’s mother eventually found work as a technician at Mount Sanai Hospital while Janice and her sister enrolled in school. Janice always enjoyed learning but lacked the support to assimilate into her new surroundings. “There were bullies in the school and in my neighborhood; people who just wanted to put someone down, calling me names.” The cycle of bullying continued to impact Janice’s self-esteem and after completing Grade 9, Janice dropped out of school, this is where her life took a turn for the worse.
“At that time, I was living with my boyfriend on the street and quickly became addicted to crack. Being homeless is hard, but nothing mattered more than the next high.” In 2001, while still on the street, Janice had a daughter. She made the decision to give full custody of her daughter to her mom. Janice maintains regular contact with her daughter but her relationship has always been strained. “My daughter is the most important person to me,” states Janice. “I don’t have a close relationship with her because, during all those years when she was growing up, we didn’t have regular contact. Now I just hope she never experiences the kind of trauma and stigma that I have dealt with. No one should be left on their own without resources or support.” After many hard years on the street and in and out of the shelter system, Janice’s life began to change.
After years on waitlists, Janice was finally granted access to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). With a monthly income, she was able to leave the shelter system and get her own unit at Dundas and Sherbourne. “That was one of my first turning points,” remembers Janice. Always outgoing and friendly, Janice connected with service providers in her local community – first at Regent Park CHC and then with Street Health – “Mary Kay, Chaudhry, Monica, Ben, Patty, and Lisa – each of them understand the challenges I face.” She was keen to learn and get more involved in completing Street Health’s Community Harm Reduction Response Team (CHRRT) and The Doorway training. She is a regular peer helper at community drop-ins. “I distribute meals and I’m ready to connect with anyone who needs some help. When someone is on the street, speaking with someone who has also been there, helps people build their connections and their hope.” Now Janice realizes how much she has to contribute.
“Most of all, I want to volunteer and be active in my community.” She looks for every opportunity to connect with people and expand her network, including regular attendance at the Toronto Maple Leaf (IBL) games at Christie Pits. “Baseball is just like life,” notes Janice. “Hopefully we each get some home runs, but sometimes no matter what you do, the ball just sails past.” Thanks to finding a support network, keeping busy with art projects and painting, practicing mindfulness, and having volunteer commitments, Janice is focused on maintaining a positive perspective and looking for opportunities to contribute and connect.
“Now I’m in a good place with my coping skills and being involved in things that are meaningful,” remarks Janice.
“My journey remains one of resilience and hope.”