When Sandra lost her mother to cancer last year, her life spiralled downward. Struggling with addiction, and withdrawn from both society and her family, Sandra lost everything and found herself living on the street with her small dog, Papousse. She was alone, angry, and without hope.
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus started to appear in Montreal, Sandra was not in good health. Her lifestyle had taken its toll on her body, and she knew she had to find a shelter. However, she did not want to part with Papousse, which she credits for saving her life while on the street. “I can’t live without her and she can’t live without me. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here right now,” she says of her sweet Yorkie dog.
In April, she and Papousse were welcomed at the YWCA, where we set up temporary emergency services in partnership with the City of Montreal to alleviate space constraints imposed by the pandemic. There, she met our Women’s Services team who offered her the support she so badly needed.
A Challenging Start
Defeated by her circumstances, she was fed up with her situation. While she is certain that if she had not been rescued by our team of counsellors, she would not be alive today, she pushed back against help.
“At first it was catastrophic. I refused to stick to the regulations,” she explains. “At some point, I decided to stop being difficult, to listen and try their method. I thought it might work.”
Sandra finally agreed to get help. She began therapy and agreed to detoxification. She joined Les Voisines, a transition program at our Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion, last summer. There, she was allowed to keep Papousse with her, which is essential to her mental health stability.
Rebuilding Her Life
Slowly, but surely, Sandra began to flourish with the help of the Les Voisines team, her counsellor, her facilitator and ongoing psychosocial support. A model resident, she followed the rules of the pavilion and, thanks to her counsellor, gained a better understanding of the mandatory constraints imposed by community life. Sandra became actively involved in group activities, and enjoyed cooking meals with her fellow residents.
“They like it when I cook, like when I made pizza with homemade dough,” she laughs. “I learn a lot by watching cooking shows. It’s my passion!”
Looking back, she realizes how sick she was when she first arrived in our services. She is proud of her accomplishments, and how hard she has worked to rebuild her life.
“For a long time, I shut myself off from others. I had no self-esteem and I didn’t let anyone get close to me,” she says. “Now I’m taking care of myself. I had to open my mind.”
Aurélie Limoucin, Coordinator for our women’s housing transition program, witnessed Sandra’s progress first-hand. “When I met her last April, she was a very strong person right from the start. One of Sandra’s greatest strengths is that she’s able to reflect back on her actions and that’s what allowed her to pull through,” Aurélie explains. “She stopped to ask herself what went wrong and why. She worked on her impulsiveness, she faced her challenges and she took to heart the advice we gave her to improve.”
A Place to Call Home
Today, Sandra and Papousse live at our Lise Watier Pavilion in one of the 29 affordable housing units exclusively reserved for women. Sandra is very grateful for the support and help she received from the Women’s Services staff, and credits them for enabling her to leave homelessness behind.
And, Papousse, has played a role as well. The other residents of the pavilion have fallen in love with the happy Yorkie dog, and it has allowed Sandra to bond with her neighbours and new friends. Sandra now cheerfully participates in many of the activities at the pavilion, and has brought her cooking skills to the Lise Watier Pavilion, sharing her delicious pound cakes and famous brownies with the other residents. With a home of her own, Sandra is moving forward with her life.
“Now I feel at peace with myself. What happened had to happen. There is nothing I can do to change it, but I’m trying to get better every day,” she says. “Today, I want to give back by helping others who have lived a similar experience to mine.”
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