John was homeless for 25 years. As a child raised by parents with addictions, he lived in an environment of fear, violence and physical and sexual abuse. He and his siblings were often sent to stay with relatives or even strangers, where the abuse continued. He left school and home at age 14. “Many of the homeless men and women I have met over the years have similar stories,” John says.
Finding a support system
John describes himself as an “angry alcoholic” during those years. He was stabbed at age 26 and lost the use of his right hand. When he first visited CUPS, it was to find a place to warm up and use the washroom. Soon, he began to access CUPS medical services. John says it was a relief to feel welcome at a medical clinic rather than out of place. CUPS helped him get an Alberta Health Care Card and other paperwork, which removed barriers to John’s access to other social services. “This is a big deal to a homeless person,” John says. “Applying for employment or just talking to a cop is a big deal when you don’t have proper ID.”
Securing stable housing
By 2002, John had saved enough money to take a Class 1 drivers course, and began a career driving big rigs. But five years later, his left hand began to fail. John was in his 50s. “I was just one of many damaged older men who are homeless,” John says. He began working with a nurse practitioner at CUPS to manage the muscular and structural damage years of manual labour had taken on his hand, neck and shoulder. CUPS secured housing for John to aid his recovery, and apart from a two-week period, he’s been housed ever since.
John, who is nearly 70, attributes his longevity to CUPS. He believes the care he received helped him survive past his 40s—the average age when chronically homeless people die. “The medical attention I received, although I was homeless and broke, was world class. It allowed me to withstand a brutal lifestyle,” John says. “CUPS treated me with patience, concern and professionalism.”