Of all the places Susan had expected herself to end up, the last was the streets. Since the death of her husband in 2011, however, Susan has faced mounting challenges when it comes to affordable living and housing.
Susan had worked in the film industry, and with a background in dance, she competed in Canada’s amateur Latin championships from 1983-1986. Now in her sixties, Susan is just one of hundreds of seniors living in Surrey, who are either homeless or struggling to make ends meet.
When her survivor’s pension kicked in, Susan’s disability allowance was clawed back, taking away her other benefits and her bus pass. Frightened by a heart attack soon after her husband died, and unable to afford rent on her own any longer, she opted to open up her home and allow people to move in with her.
But her new roommates were unreliable. When she was not home, her possessions mysteriously disappeared, and her house was damaged. After several missed payments, Susan and her co-tenants were evicted from their home.
Susan was forced to reduce her possessions into 17 banana boxes. She has them stored at a friend’s home; however, Susan says a lot of her things have since been sold or damaged. “Whatever is left of my life is being distributed on the street. One day I saw a girl wearing my best cashmere sweater, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m watching myself lose my whole life,” she said.
A bag containing her birth certificate, her identification and other important documents was also stolen. Without I.D. and an address, Susan has difficulties accessing her prescription medications, renting a storage unit, and applying for jobs. And because she was born in the United States, the process of obtaining another birth certificate is more complicated for Susan.
“I’m stuck – I’m a non-entity. I have no passport, I have no driver’s license. I’m walking around with no money, no bus pass, no wherewithal to go find a place, and there is nobody who can help me,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time crying.”
Local shelters in Surrey are not the best option for Susan. Many require clients to take a permanent bed or are not pet friendly. “Once you’re in for the night, you can’t go out again. They’re also expecting me to sleep with the people who robbed me in the first place. How can I possibly close my eyes and feel safe?”
For now, she sleeps wherever she can. “Yesterday I slept behind the park. The day before I slept in the empty lot across the street,” she said.
Despite all these struggles, the worst part of being homeless for Susan is not being able to take care of her mother, who is currently in the hospital. “Not being able to have my mother home for Christmas…now she’s going to die, and she’ll never be home again,” she said.
by Sheetal Reddy