Having a place to call home is a basic human need. One of the programs we operate, A Key of Her Own, is based on the Housing First model and helps find safe, permanent housing for women dealing with long-term or chronic homelessness. Most of these clients face multiple challenges, among them trauma, addiction, physical and mental health conditions, exploitation, abuse, incarceration and extreme poverty. Since the program began in 2013, we’ve had two instances where the homes we helped find were the clients’ last as they passed away from illness shortly after being housed. Below, one of EFry’s Housing First case managers reflects on her relationship with one of these special women, Ms. K.
I first met Ms. K while working in one of EFry’s shelters. An apartment fire left her homeless and took more than 60 years of mementos away in the blink of an eye. She arrived in a nightgown, shoes and a blanket given to her by emergency services personnel. I was her case worker and even after our staff found her housing, she’d call now and then to chat with me. Mental and physical health challenges led to eviction from her first placement. She fell into a cycle of housing and homelessness brought on by illness, hospitalization, and non-payment of rent while getting care. Ms. K’s repeated homelessness meant she qualified for EFry’s A Key of Her Own program, so we were able to re-house her, even finding her a place in her preferred neighbourhood.
While finding housing is the goal of A Key of Her Own, what we really want to do is help people stay housed. That means getting to know our clients as people. For women who have become used to rejection, being accepted and respected is vital to them believing in themselves and succeeding.
Ms. K had struggled with addiction. She’d had trouble with family and other relationships most of her life. Her two children were taken away from her. It wasn’t until she was older that she learned she had Aspergers, an Autism-spectrum disorder that impairs people’s ability to interpret social cues and hampers smooth social interaction. Because Ms. K has fallen out with her family, she could not turn to them in her time of need.
Not long after we found her new stable housing, Ms. K was hospitalized. She called to ask if I would come see her. Of course, I said yes. When I arrived, she had found her addiction recovery achievement coin in her purse and wanted to pray for forgiveness because the hospital had given her morphine. She’d been clean for 24 years and felt bad for taking the medication her doctor prescribed.
While in hospital, Ms. K contracted a bacterial infection. Her body rejected the antibiotics and she went in septic shock. We received word her organs were shutting down. We were able find her son, who was living in a group home, and arranged a final visit for them. The day she died, my colleague and I arrived to see her, said hello and were then asked to check in at the nurse’s station. While were there, she passed away. I truly believe she held on until we came, that she was at peace. Ms. K had received so many empty promises in her life but she knew she could count on me. I am grateful to have been part of Ms. K’s life and happy to know that EFry helped provide her the dignity of knowing she had her own home and that she was a person who mattered.