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Understanding Homelessness

What’s the real story?

Find out from Wendy, Sim and Chadd, individuals with lived experience of homelessness, and the Executive Director of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa, Kaite Burkholder Harris.

Wendy was a nurse for 20 years. She never imagined she would be homeless.

She grew up in small town Ontario with her parents and siblings. They led a normal life and had many happy memories. Few people knew, however, that her mom suffered from severe depression and anxiety. At a young age, Wendy felt the need to help her mom take care of the family.

Wendy’s natural caretaking instinct and drive to achieve led her to a career in nursing. She started working at a hospital in Toronto. She met the man who she thought was the love of her life. The physical abuse started after one short week of marriage.

During the course of their relationship, Wendy’s husband sent her to the hospital more times than she could count.

To cope with the pain, and her own paralyzing anxiety, Wendy started to drink more and more.

For several years, she put herself in and out of rehab and during one of these stints she finally found the strength to leave her abusive husband for good.

Wendy met her current husband at a rehab program and they decided that moving to Ottawa would give them a fresh start.

Their struggles with alcohol continued, however. Wendy began to experience health issues. They ran out of money for rent and found themselves at Shepherds of Good Hope.

Sim was born with a different name: Akearok. It means stomach in Inuktitut.

Sim was born with a different name: Akearok. It means stomach in Inuktitut. When he was sent to a residential school, he was stripped of his identity and given an English name, Simeonie, and a number. Sim’s was E51655.

Sim grew up in Igloolik, a small community in Nunavut. He liked to hunt and live off the land with his family. At 6 years old he was taken from his family and sent to a residential school where he stayed until he was 18 years old. The abuse and trauma he endured has haunted him for many years.

Sim loved to learn, and at 19 he moved to Ottawa to pursue post-secondary education. He studied English, law and politics at Carleton University. He met his now ex-wife, and they had five boys.

In the mid-1990s, Sim became an activist in the fight for an acknowledgement from the Federal Government and churches about the residential school system.

Unfortunately, doing this important work also meant re-living trauma that he hadn’t healed from. Sim started drinking more and more to numb the pain. His wife left him and took his kids with her. With no other family in Ottawa, Sim found himself homeless.

Chadd will always say first that he loves and respects his parents, now deceased, very much.

He will then tell you that he grew up with a lot of abuse in his home. The final straw was when his father non-fatally shot his brother in an argument. At the age of sixteen, Chadd left home and found refuge on the streets of Ottawa.

At first, street life was a nonstop party. Reality hit when Chadd’s girlfriend became pregnant at just 15 years old. Neither of them were ready to be parents, although they tried at first. Their daughter ended up being adopted by a family in town.

Chadd tried to move on. He got married in his 20s and had a second daughter. He and his wife had jobs that afforded them a nice house and fancy cars – a far cry from the way Chadd grew up. But Chadd’s childhood trauma and stresses of his life led him to try harder substances, and soon he was using cocaine, while his wife’s chronic pain led her to use opiates.

Things went downhill quickly. Chadd hit rock bottom when he got in trouble with the law, and ended up serving nine years in prison. He was released in March 2020, just as the pandemic hit.

He had no idea where to go. The world had shut down. He was completely disoriented with no money and no support. He found himself at the doors of Shepherds of Good Hope.

How We Got here

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How We Define Homelessness

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Action Step Learn More about Homelessness in Ottawa and across the Country

Homeless Hub: A web-based research library and information centre from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, the largest national research institute devoted to homelessness in Canada.