The typical “7k marathon” day of a homeless woman in Nanaimo

I was talking to a friend of mine who does outreach the other day and we both came up with the same word to describe what homelessness looks like in this day and age. That word is exhausted!

If you get to sleep at all, once you wait you wake up the first thing you have to do is pack up everything you own, including your shelter, while right there standing beside you are the Bylaw and RCMP officers from Nanaimo’s “Social Disorder Task Unit.” 

Ruby is a young woman who lives on the streets of Nanaimo. She says she has encountered the Task Unit many mornings. She told me that, as a single woman, sleeping peacefully in the streets is not a reality. If she does manage to sleep, when she wakes up she feels dread and anxiety. 

When Ruby slept on the Wesley Strip, she immediately had to pack up her stuff and move it across the street when she woke up in the morning. She says every morning the Bylaw officer would say, “Oh no, you can’t stand here. We’ve got to move across the street so the street sweeper machine can come through.” Most of the time, she says, it never comes. 

Instead, peers, other people from the street community, sweep up the garbage and clean up the street. Sometimes they get $15-20 an hour. It’s great if some folks can make a few bucks, but usually you just get a gift card to Thrifty Foods, the most expensive grocery store in town, and the card says in bold, “NO TOBACCO.” So even though you worked and are of age, you can’t even buy yourself a pack of legal cigarettes if you, an adult, want to have a well-earned smoke. God forbid you want a beer to go with it…

Once you’re awake, the daily shuffle, which Ruby calls the “7k marathon,” begins. 

Once Ruby has all her stuff packed up, it’s 8am and she hasn’t even gotten the chance to use the bathroom. So, with everybody else, she heads to the 710 Club. They’re open from 7-10am and you can usually get breakfast and use a bathroom there. Unfortunately now she can’t go inside, sit down, eat a meal, and have a coffee to get warm because of Covid-19. Instead they give her a bag lunch and send her on her way. So, now she’s looking for a washroom and a place to sit down and eat her sandwich. But she can’t sit anywhere, she can’t go anywhere, nobody wants her to be anywhere. 

I asked Ruby, what happens if someone doesn’t get all their stuff cleaned up in time. What happens if you stay in your tent and refuse to pack up? 

Ruby says that the Bylaw officers take your stuff, pick it right up off the ground, your tents, your blankets, your belongings, purses, whatever, and they throw it into the back of a truck. Then they drive away. 

Back to Ruby’s typical day. After being turned away from the 710 Club, she can maybe use the portapotty, but the seat has been removed and there is rarely toilet paper. Then she walks down to Caledonia Park, where you can shower between 7-10am, and she waits for a shower. Then she walks over to the Salvation Army for lunch because she’s already spent the whole morning walking around. 

After lunch she’ll walk to Outreach Pharmacy to get methadone or Suboxone. Maybe she’ll speak to a doctor or do an activity at the AVI Health Centre, then walk back to the Salvation Army, which serves dinner between 4:30-5:30pm. 

That is the entire day, which Ruby spends walking with everything she owns on her back or in a cart. The total distance she walks in a day is approximately 7km. Plus you basically have to use the washroom the entire time, since no one will let you use theirs, and if they do, they start knocking after two minutes, so trying to poop is outta the question.

I asked Ruby what she thought the City of Nanaimo could spend $187,000 towards, besides a Social Disorder Task Unit, to deal with the homelessness problem. Her answer was, “Number one: build housing.”

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