A WEAC Journey
“I always seem to get stuck between a rock and a hard place. WEAC is a refuge.”
Words like sanctuary and refuge are often used to describe WEAC, a 64-bed emergency shelter that provides respite from the harsh realities that come with living rough.
What most people don’t have the privilege of seeing is the strength that comes from the women accessing the shelter. The identities that despite every hardship, they have held on to.
“I owned a bookstore. I was successful, an entrepreneur. It’s not somewhere I thought that I’d end up. But I’m glad I did.”
This is Gloria’s** second time at WEAC. The first time, she came from hospital because she had nowhere else to go. After a lengthy stay, she had lost her apartment, her belongings, and most devastatingly, her cats.
“This was a refuge from the sadness I was stuck in. Thanks to their housing team, I was able to move out again – get an apartment, furniture. I loved my apartment. I had a big comfy couch, lots of light. It was a walk-up, which was hard, I’ve got bad knees. But it was mine.”
Sadly, the cycle repeated due to a fractured relationship with her landlord, and she found herself homeless once more, a few years later. Again, WEAC was there.
Remnants of her past are still within her control. She spends a portion of her disability benefits each month on storage units that contain books from her store that closed down many years ago. She wants to get rid of them – they fill 3 storage units. But Gloria knows the magic of a book – that transport from reality that so many people seek when they open the cover. “I don’t want to just throw them out. I want to share. If I can help someone who wants to read, I will.”
These sentiments are echoed by many of the ladies within the walls of WEAC. Despite staying in a shelter, the ladies want to share, often offering clothing, cigarettes, support or belongings to others.
“We know what it’s like to have nothing.”
Gloria is slowly working through her storage units, donating, disposing, and sharing. Recently, she received a message on her store’s old Facebook page, from a grandma whose granddaughter visited the store after school, reading books and spending time with the store’s cat until her mother could pick her up after work. “[My granddaughter] always remembers you. We think of you often….” the message begins. Gloria smiles – transported back to another time, when she spent her days working shoulder to shoulder with her aunt, cats roaming through bookshelves. She has dreams for the future, filled with cats, and an apartment with an elevator, which will be easier on her knees. She is working with a housing worker to find the perfect spot.
“I get into the mindset that, it is what it is. I’ll get there soon. This is just a stop on my way there.”
To learn more about how you can support ladies like Gloria, and continue to provide that refuge for women within Edmonton, visit www.e4calberta.org/donate.
**Names have been changed at the request of the ladies sharing their stories.
Photo Credit: 2019: David Bernstein, Visual Tranquility Photography