“Being homeless is worse in the winter,” Julie says. “Because if it’s really cold out and you don’t have the proper clothes you can freeze.”
Julie’s housing instability start at age 12; she went from a group home, to a foster home, and back to a group home again. When she left the group home at age 19 she began couch surfing — staying temporarily with friends or acquaintances who would take her in. This was not without its challenges. While staying with one friend, she suffered verbal and emotional abuse. With another, she would often find herself locked out until the early morning when he returned home.
This instability took a toll on her mental health. She turned to local shelters for somewhere to sleep, but her depression and anxiety got worse.
“I didn’t really experiment with drugs until I moved into a shelter and started hanging out with the friends I started hanging out with”, says Julie. “I started depending on drugs to deal with my pain and my anxiety.”
The drugs alleviated her symptoms temporarily, but when the highs were over the magnitude of the lows increased. Julie eventually realized she was on a downward spiral, but not before things took a turn for the worse.
“I was a big drug user,” she says. “I’d end up in and out of hospitals, several times, either on overdoses or the fact that I tried self-harming while being on those drugs”.
United Way Ottawa invests in programs and initiatives that help get homeless youth like Julie off the streets for good. Funds directly support getting youth into safe housing so they can then focus on addressing the issues that led them to the streets in the first place – like abuse, addiction, and mental health issues.
Thanks to United Way partners including Operation Come Home, Julie has found stability and guidance. OCH is helping her work towards completing her high school diploma, and supporting her with her health and mental health challenges—talking her through crisis and connecting her with the resources she needs. Outreach workers provide her with everything from harm reduction tools to mittens when the weather gets cold.
Now her future is looking brighter: she has since become involved with the Achievement Centre, an OCH program designed to engage homeless youth in academic studies.
“I’m really good at being there for others,” she says, “That’s why I want to be a personal support worker.”
Thanks to United Way donors, Julie is getting the support she needs.