Speaking up, being heard

Indigenous women especially affected by homelessness

Lori Deets

Let’s talk about it

I am just back from three days in a life far removed from mine. I could not believe my eyes when I flew into Toronto, looking out onto a city that has over double the population of the province of Saskatchewan. And then after arriving, all I could think was, “Oh my goodness it’s so loud here!”

All I wanted was a nice quiet bench somewhere. I’m sure that exists in Toronto, somewhere, but it was nowhere near where I was.

The purpose of my trip was to attend the Pan-Canadian Voice for Women’s Housing Symposium. My days were spent in a room filled with 50 women. The first morning opened with a panel of four women with lived experience in the difficulties of accessing housing. I was one of the women on the panel. Although there were times when I was a little nervous, I knew this symposium was mine for the taking and that I could do with it whatever I chose.

I spoke from the place where I always speak best, the place deep in my soul that speaks nothing but truth. There I was, in a circle with 50 women, feeling nothing but respect and admiration. These were people who appreciated one another’s differences and were empathetic towards each other. I felt like I could have gone in my pyjamas and still received the same amount of respect.

I didn’t share anything amazingly brilliant or jaw dropping. These women knew how things work and I didn’t have to sugar-coat anything. Life is hard for women, particularly Indigenous women. We spent the day talking about homelessness and addiction, about the inequalities in public service systems. If there was ever a time where the adage about biting the hand that feeds you is true, it is when you are dependant on government funding and support, even when that hand isn’t supplying enough support to get even adequate nutrition. The needs of women are not being met. Some of the most common phrases I heard throughout day were “Women aren’t homeless enough!”

This is because women who stay in shelters or “couch-surf” aren’t counted as homeless. People wondered aloud how many more women must die, referring to the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women. One more death cannot be tolerated.

The first day was productive. I felt that if we women were the powers that be, we could change the system within a very short time frame. Long-term everlasting change takes time, but it can be done. However, these women are not the powers that be. As I began to make my way around the room, meeting more and more unbelievably strong women, many of whom have been at the table a very long time, the hopelessness began to set in. If no one has been listening to these women, where does that leave us?

I left the conference that day feeling a little confused but empowered. For the first time in years I was surrounded by women who truly understood what it feels like to be a racialized woman! I felt validated because I didn’t have to explain to anyone how the systems were unfair. They all knew. When you take away the pressure of having to explain or prove yourself, it leaves room for action and change. With my head swimming with new information, I decided to put it all aside and just enjoy myself for the evening. Tomorrow would be another day. The powers that be would still be there tomorrow.

Then came tomorrow. I hadn’t done any writing. I woke up seized with anxiety, a common side effect when I have unwritten thoughts swirling in my head. Today would be the day when someone who could make some change would hear us. What would I do with this moment?

Coffee in hand, I wrote. When I am in charge of my writing, when I’m not forcing the thoughts and I just let them come, the words flow like Niagara Falls (which I did not get a chance to see!). I have termed this experience “written thoughts.”

That morning, in front of those same 50 women and a handful more from the office of the Status of Women, as well as the president of the CMHC, I shared my thoughts, my lived experience in poetic form. These were my most vulnerable thoughts, ones I have learned serve no purpose lost in my head.

I shared my thoughts raw and unclean, but you can’t argue with my thoughts. When I tell you how I feel, you can’t tell me that I can’t feel a certain way. My feelings are mine to own. When I was done, I had tears in my eyes. I was scared and shaking. I don’t know if what I said made a bit of difference, but it did to me, and no one can take that away from me.

I am a small town girl from Saskatchewan, born and raised. I work hard for very little return. You may call me a woman with “lived experience.” To me, I’m just a girl doing whatever she needs to survive.