A woman I have known for years passed recently, dying of cancer in her mid-40s. She was an incredibly strong person with a great sense of humour. She would often call or drop into the CEASE office at the end of the day to chat. While our team worried about her because she was often a victim of violence and illness, and she was in and out of safe and unsafe places to sleep, she kept a positive outlook and just kept going.
When she was given the diagnosis, she set herself some goals and surpassed the length of time the doctors had given her. One of her goals was to have her own apartment. Another was to get a cat. She achieved both goals. It was a privilege for our CEASE team to be able to assist her with her housing goal through a new program with Homeward Trust called “supported referrals.”
What a beautiful home she created for herself and her kitty! She shopped at the FIND store, choosing furniture. She shopped at the Dollar Store for decals to create art on her wall, along with pictures. She created a safe little nook on her balcony where she could enjoy a cigarette, or, lay on her couch in her living room and look at the trees beyond the balcony.
I felt profoundly sad that she could only enjoy her new home less than a month before the cancer forced her to the hospital where she spent her last three weeks.
At the same time, I felt profoundly glad that she had those weeks in her home. She asked if we could help her with a house blessing, and two nuns involved with CEASE gladly created a blessing ceremony. She worked so hard to make sure her home was sparkling when we arrived and had prepared a nice little lunch for us.
Several years ago, in one of her long stretches of homelessness, she slept in two little parks near the CEASE office. It seemed fitting to gather for a community farewell with her family at the Alberta Avenue Community Garden near those little parks where she had slept. In the waning autumn light, with enough warmth from the sun, we told stories, laughed a little, cried a little, and shared a simple meal embraced by the harvest cycle of a garden.
Kate Quinn is the Executive Director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).