“Before I lost my home I wasn't doing that well. I had really been isolating and was fearful of so many people. Being here, having a purpose and learning to communicate with all the different types of people has actually made me stronger and more socially healthy.” Deborah proudly shares with us about her experience volunteering and using services at the Navigation Center.
When we first met her during the severe weather shelter season she was brand new to the situation and struggling. We understood the anger, frustration, the shock of losing everything and having to somehow pick and choose what is truly needed and what maybe isn’t so important when it all seems so terrifying to consider. Asking the questions frantically to yourself over and over: “What do I absolutely HAVE to have? What can I try to live without? Can I store something somewhere? And then feel the literal weight of how do you manage to carry what you DO decide to take with you? Debra went through all of this with her two little terriers at the end of their tangled leashes. These little dogs at the time made managing life just a little more complex and terrifying, but as we welcomed her into the safe space, we knew she was exhausted and trying the best she can.
So many people question, why do homeless people have pets? Pets are their family and sometimes their only companions. They have all lost their home at the same time. Those furry babies all of a sudden become the only priority. They also sometimes become the one thing that fuels a person to keep going.
Now a few months later we bump into her again at The Vancouver Navigation Center and her little fur family is making progress! She smiles and says hello! She agreed with us that it’s true if you are tenacious and persistent, you can eventually get some help, but it’s not always the way you would think it would happen. Debroah is currently in the women's shelter and she goes to the Navigation Center almost daily when they have to leave the shelter space so she isn’t far from a bathroom and can get other services like laundry taken care of. More importantly she has found a way to be useful and have a purpose there in that space. Deborah is known as the Coffee Lady at the Center as she keeps the warm cups of coffee flowing and the area clean and stocked.
On a recent night as the good neighbor meeting was happening, there you see Deborah and her little dogs in a stroller off to the side. This meeting was another one where some of the voices of the meeting turned angry and it became abusive towards the homeless population and those that serve them as a whole. For us to witness it all and the categorizing of a whole population in front of this sweet caring woman who was helping to serve them all coffee left us with an ache in our souls. Here was Deborah, a sweet natured woman who isn't presenting mental health issues, addiction, or any thing that someone could point to specifically for her homelessness, except maybe physical struggles and that rent is continuing to rise as incomes stay fixed. She stood there right in the mix of all this anger and controversy serving coffee and trying to smile, showing us and everyone there if they just opened their eyes that anyone could be the next person affected by homelessness. Deborah is just another example that we are all just one major life event away from losing our homes and having to face the judgement of people who have no idea how it feels to work through some of the hardest parts of your life and still remain human and connected to community.
Join us in being persistent in seeking solutions that help all parts of our community, including our unhoused neighbors. You are invited to our upcoming Walk A Mile in Our Shoes awareness walk October 6 where we can gather and get to know each other and share perspectives and hopes for better housing justice for all. Register for the event and order your fundraising t-shirt at
~ Ren & Adam