September 14, 2020

“Everything changed for me after I found affordable housing”

Laura May shared her own experience of homelessness with Prof. Jacqueline Kennelly, the director of Centre for Urban Youth Research. May reached out to Kennelly after hearing about the new research project on affordable housing for homeless youth by the recent interview* made with Prof. Kennelly on CBC Ottawa Morning.

In her appreciation message to Prof. Kennelly, May narrates her story with homelessness which provides important insights for the affordable housing fight. We are pleased to share May’s story below with her permission.

“Dear Dr. Kennelly,

I heard your recent interview on CBC Ottawa Morning regarding your research project about affordable housing for homeless youth. What a tremendous thing! Congratulations. I hope that your research is able to help tackle this problem.

This issue resonates with me because of my own experience. While I have never experienced homelessness, I have been at risk. I grew up in Toronto. In early 1989, at the age of 16, I left my parents’ home because I was being abused. I began working full time for minimum wage and dropped out of high school.

Over the next 14 months, I moved four times. It was incredibly stressful and I was still trying to deal with the aftermath of the trauma I’d experienced. A chance meeting with the rector of my childhood church changed everything. The church had forged a partnership with a women’s shelter to build affordable and supportive housing. It was my great luck that in the spring of 1990, the building was just a couple of weeks away from opening and there was one apartment available”.

“I am proof that supportive housing and social services save lives”

May continued her message highlighting the importance of developing secure, safe, and affordable housing.

"I moved into this apartment on April 1, 1990 and lived there for 8 years. During the time I lived in this non-profit, supportive and subsidized housing, I began making longer term plans for my life. The housing worker I met connected me with social services. I applied for student welfare and returned to high school. From there, my high school guidance counsellor introduced me to a psychiatrist who helped me work through my trauma and to heal. After I graduated from high school, I earned a B.A. and a master’s degree. In 1998, I got my first job in my chosen profession and moved out of supportive housing. Because I had no income or savings, I paid for my university education entirely with student loans. I borrowed a lot of money. I finished repaying my student loans in 2010.

Everything changed for me after I found affordable housing. When you don’t have to spend your energy worrying about how you are going to afford the rent, you can use that energy to begin to make other plans. I mean, it was not an easy thing to go through but I am here now, in 2020, at the age of 47, filled with gratitude and able to share my experiences.

Congratulations again on the grant. I really believe that the research you are doing is important. I hope you are able to do great things to help address the issue of affordable housing for at-risk and homeless youth. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I am proof that supportive housing and social services save lives. I am here because the social safety net caught me.”

“Woman gives back to food bank”

Laura May has been regularly involved with the Ottawa Food Bank for the past few years, talking about her experiences with food insecurity. She gave a number of interviews with CBC Ottawa (2014), CTV Ottawa (TV and radio) and Ottawa Food Bank (2015). May said that she sees these interviews as a way to try to take away stigma from using a food bank and to motivate people who are in a position to help to donate and to encourage anyone who might need the services of a food bank to find the one in their neighbourhood.

Here May wrote about the sense of community she found while living in supportive housing and in this post she described the circumstances that brought her to supportive housing and how her life changed after she found secure, safe, and affordable housing.

*Professor Jacqueline Kennelly interviewed with CBC Ottawa Morning on August 17, 2020 to discuss her research project on housing with one of her youth co-researchers, Holly Petersen. Professor Kennelly is Co-Investigator on a recently funded Partnership Grant examining experiences of residents across Canada who live in affordable housing. Click here to listen to her interview with CBC.