Karimi never expected to find herself among Vancouver’s growing homeless population. With two university degrees under her belt – a Master of Applied Computer Science and a Bachelor of Mathematics – Karimi believed her education would lead to a financially secure future. But that was before she found herself at the end of a harrowing journey to escape a domestic situation on the other side of the world.
Two years ago, Karimi was living a middle class life in Vancouver, with her husband and young son. Both she and her husband were born in the Middle East, although they met and married in Canada. “I came to Canada because I wanted a life where women have the same rights and opportunities as men,” she says.
When Karimi’s husband wanted to temporarily return to their homeland, she agreed to resign from her job and put their furniture in storage. Not long after their arrival, her domestic situation took a turn for the worse. Her husband then changed his mind about returning to Canada and wanted to remain in Iran permanently.
Karimi found herself expecting another baby and trapped in a place where she had no rights to her children and her husband could control her every move. He kept her son’s passport locked away. For months, Karimi waited for an opportunity to escape. When it came, she and her son had to leave quickly, with little in the way of belongings. Eventually, they made it back to Canada but with no money, no home, and Karimi two months away from having another child.
Karimi connected with EFry and came to live at Elizabeth Gurney House. “Everyone was so nice and welcoming. They gave us a place to stay and helped me get legal aid so I could apply for full custody of my son.”
Elizabeth Gurney staff also supported Karimi in applying for BC Housing, welfare and bus passes. In all, she and her children stayed at the shelter for five months.
“I am grateful for all the help and that they let us stay so long,” Karimi says.
“It takes time to rebuild your life, especially as a single mother.”
There was a housing opening far away from where I used to live, but EFry let me stay a month longer so I could get housing in my own community, where I have friends nearby to support me. EFry also helped me get my furniture out of storage and gave me other necessities from the Small Frys Boutique.”
Now settled in affordable housing, Karimi is planning her next steps towards a positive future. She looks forward to drawing on her education once again to find a job that will enable her to support herself and her children.
Lily, above, stayed with her daughter Yoleta at Elizabeth Gurney House
When Yoleta was 64, she and her 95-year-old mother, Lily, found themselves at EFry’s Maida Duncan Drop-in Centre looking for a place stay. Fortunately, a room had just become available at Elizabeth Gurney House shelter.
A few years earlier, Yoleta had a good job, was married and had raised four children with her mother’s live-in support. Then, she was hit by a car. A pedestrian, Yoleta suffered severe injuries that required hospitalization and years of rehab. While her grown children understood Yoleta’s need to focus on her recovery, the situation broke down her marriage. Yoleta and Lily left her marital home and moved in with her daughter. Soon after, her daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Not wanting to place added stress on her daughter, Yoleta and Lily went to stay with a friend, who connected them with a social service organization they thought could help.
For awhile, it looked as if they would be moving into an apartment. But on the December moving day, an anticipated advance on the deposit did not come through and the two found themselves homeless.
Yoleta had never been in a shelter before. “I had all these ideas in my head that they were dangerous and dirty but that’s not what Gurney’s is like at all,” she says. “It was very homelike and the service they gave to me and my mother was amazing.”
EFry worked with Yoleta and Lily to find affordable housing. Both are originally from the Philippines and Yoleta’s citizenship documentation had been lost, which prevented them from accessing BC Housing support. She found a room in a Burnaby house but discovered it was infested with bedbugs and returned to Gurney’s.
Today, Yoleta and Lily are living in a clean basement suite in New Westminster. While they are comfortable, the landlords have let them know they are planning to bring family from overseas who will need the space, so another move is somewhere on the horizon.
Yoleta’s involvement with EFry doesn’t stop with housing – she’s also an Asphalt Gal. While at Gurney’s, she heard about EFry’s social enterprise and expressed interest in the work.
“I love being an Asphalt Gal,” she says. “It’s a good workout. It’s not every day, so it works well as I still have to take care of my mother.
Yoleta maintains a positive outlook, saying she is grateful for what she has and knows others have even greater challenges.
“Life is looking rosy now. One step at a time.”
“With EFry, there’s no judgement,” says 49-year-old Christy. “That’s a big deal because I think fear of being judged holds a lot of people back.”
Christy first encountered EFry more than three years ago, while she was incarcerated. An EFry representative named Kristina began connecting with her through a visiting program, and shared information on the different supports available as she re-established her life in the community.
“Kristina picked me up when I was released and took me straight to an AA meeting, which was helpful in maintaining my sobriety,” Christy explains.
“I was really nervous about the transition and she was there for me.”
When Christy’s first housing situation didn’t work out, she located a place in a recovery house. Unfortunately, others in the house were using. Christy recognized it was an unhealthy situation and called Kristina for help. “She dropped everything and met me for coffee. Then, she got me into EFry’s Sheena’s Place shelter while she helped me find a new place to live.”
Christy enjoyed her time at Sheena’s, saying it felt like home with someone always there to support her. Through the Homelessness Intervention Project (HIP), Christy was able to find safe, stable housing in under 30 days. While the homeowners recently sold the house, that housing placement lasted for more than three years.
“EFry has assisted me with so many things. They got me ID. They helped me move. They got me furniture: a bed, a TV and things for my kitchen. They gave me a rent supplement at first so I could afford rent while I waited for my disability to come through. They got me glasses and even a donated computer to work on,” Christy says. “They really helped set me up for success.”
Christy also cites EFry, and in particular her main contacts Kristina and Mikha, with supporting her mental and emotional healing from anxiety and depression. “Whenever you need them, all you have to do is call.” A huge dog fan, Christy’s Jack Russell terrier Mina provides comfort and sparked the idea for her business, Doggy Daycare.
“Kristina first came up with the idea when she learned how much I love dogs,” says Christy. “She even helped me make up and distribute flyers.” Christy can look after as many as six dogs at time. She is also considering building on her passion by exploring educational programs to become a veterinary assistant.