“It Can Happen to Anybody”

“Once you hit homelessness your world crumbles. People don’t know that there’s people who care.”

So says Kerry Nolan, who is speaking first hand.

Now, she is the administrative coordinator at the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre in downtown Whitehorse. She welcomes women to the centre, chats with them over coffee while they wait for appointments. She’s been at this position since April 2015. Her contract ends in March.

The position is funded by social assistance, through the Head Start program.

Nolan grew up in Whitehorse in a middle class family. The biggest factor that led to her being homeless was an abusive relationship she was in. “Anything can happen. It happened to me, and all of a sudden you’re lost.”

Nolan wasn’t close with her family, “I felt like I let everyone down and I didn’t want to ask for anything.”

She was on the streets on and off for six months, “I had my little girl with me at the time.”

Kaushee’s Place had a policy where she could stay there for one month, then she’d get a hotel room, then something would happen — like she’d go back to an abusive partner, or an abusive partner would find her, and she’d be back at Kaushee’s.

“I ended up losing my little girl because I couldn’t provide for her.”

Nolan was on the street this time of year. The temperature was dropping, she was alone and cold with no one to talk to. “It needs to be addressed, people go to jail to get off the streets, or put themselves in vulnerable situations.”

She ended up at the Victoria Faulkner centre, volunteering, trying to fill her days. She was more comfortable asking strangers for help than her family.

The Head Start position came up, and the centre’s women’s advocate, Diane Pétrin, told Nolan to apply for it. She got it.

She has an apartment. Her daughter turns seven on October 12. She’s in Fort McMurray with Nolan’s third cousin, but Nolan says they have good phone conversations, now. This wasn’t the case before, when her daughter was in care homes.

Nolan is in a secure place now, but she’s still vulnerable. She wants to stay with Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, but she doesn’t know how the job will be funded once the social assistance funding is up in March. She almost ended up on the street again, recently, because she left a relationship that was unhealthy.

“I wasn’t planning on leaving the relationship.”

But once she did, her income and rent didn’t meet the parametres of the social assistance she was receiving. She almost lost the single unit dwelling that was provided for her. She didn’t because the women’s advocate, Diane Pétrin, went to a social assistance meeting with her to explain the situation.

If Nolan hadn’t had the strength and knowledge about how to advocate for herself, she says, she would have slipped again.

Nolan is glad she didn’t ask her family for help when she first ended up on the street; she’s glad she went through what she did. “Now I’m helping people.”

She wants to get off of social assistance, “being self-sufficient will raise my self-esteem. I’ll be in charge, and won’t worry about losing my home.”

She’s learned that she’s good at advocating for herself, she’s a people person. At first, she had a hard time at Victoria Faulkner because she wasn’t used to being around people. Now, sometimes she’s the only staff there when women come in, and it’s comfortable. Sometimes, women come in just to see her. “People can relate to me, because I’ve been on the street.”

The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition gets money from United Way Yukon to hold a Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, this year it runs from October 16 – 21. “In our own community, it’s good for people to know that there’s a lot of homelessness,” says Nolan. “It can happen to anybody. Everybody should be aware.”

Since she’s started working at Victoria Faulkner, Nolan sees homelessness in a different way, “people come in and they cry. Everything goes back to being homeless.”

She talks about how homelessness burdens the justice system and the health system. If there was more support in place, Nolan says, those systems could focus on other problems.

From her perspective, the biggest thing Whitehorse needs to help eliminate the number of people who don’t have a place to live is affordable housing. Single unit dwellings, and hostel-style accommodations, to get people off the streets.

“Low income housing should be accepted as much as any other type of housing,” she says. “We should be coming together as a city, and not shunning people because they’re homeless.”

There should also be more awareness, says Nolan. She participated in the Homelessness Point-In-Time count that was conducted in Whitehorse in the spring, and that was eye-opening, “even for me.”

She says people need to know about the vulnerability in the community.

Nolan wants everyone in Whitehorse to get out and support the Poverty and Homelessness Awareness Week, “whether you’re homeless and vulnerable, or not. It’s in all our best interest to a have a healthy community.”

For more information, or to get involved with the Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, email [email protected], or call 334-9317.

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