This former homeless addict once thought she wouldn’t live to see 30

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The Vancouver Care Project is the work of 17-year-old Rachel Way, who engages with some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents facing poverty and homelessness. Each week she shares the story of one person she has met.

The purpose of this project is to share the stories of the lives of those living and working in and around Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, as well as the homeless and marginalized population of Vancouver. By creating a virtual story book, the goal is to end the stigma that surrounds the area and raise awareness to the struggles the people of the area face.

Maggie: This 60-year-old former homeless addict once thought she wouldn’t make it to her 30th birthday

Maggie (Photo by Rachel Way)

Walking past Waterfront Station, I came across a smiling women sitting watching the world go by on her day off. I was greeted with open arms from Maggie, who shared with me her stories of overcoming homelessness and addiction. I always love sharing stories of recovery, as I think they provide hope and inspiration to everyone, addict or not.

Maggie shared with me that she has been living in the same house on the east side of Vancouver for the last 15 years. She, her cat, and 43 other men live in the apartment building that she is so grateful to call home. She laughed as she told me how lucky she is to be a part of the community.

Maggie reflected, however, that life hadn’t always been that great for her. When Maggie was 18 she moved from Ontario to British Columbia in search of work. She had a job and a place around Commercial Drive, but after the passing of family members she began to be a closet drug user, which really took a toll on her life.

“It was quite sad actually,” she said, as she reflected back on her times of hiding her addiction. When the place she was subletting fell through and it seemed that there was no where else to go, she decided that she would try homelessness.

So Maggie took to the streets as a single homeless woman, an experience she describes as terrifying. Maggie set up camp in the Kits Beach area and was constantly moving from place to place as people would find her or the police would tell her it was time to move onto the next spot.

“I was the person in the back alleys doing heroin” she explained. “I was heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol always, self medicating,” she said.

When I asked Maggie when the turning point for her was, she shared that it was a freezing, cold night around Thanksgiving and she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Since that night, with a few bumps in the road, she has been sober for 30 years.

She had set off to find help,  where she found safe and secure supportive housing that she now calls home. She describes the Downtown Eastside, as many do, to be a vibrant, supportive community where people look out for each other. Her experience in her place has been nothing but positive and for that she is incredibly grateful.

Maggie and I chatted about the topic of gentrification, and when I asked her thoughts on it, she had very powerful insights. She explained how it creates a divided community; it’s not inclusive and creates an “us and them” sort of mentality. “We’re all people,” she added–something that I agree with wholeheartedly. It’s so important that we treat people as our equals, not as being below us and not as charity cases.

Maggie shared with me that when she was younger she thought she wouldn’t see the day that she turned 30, yet there she was sitting beside me at the age of 60. “I doubled it!” she proclaimed as the two of us laughed.

Maggie’s love for life is radiant and inspiring. She was beaming with pride as she shared how grateful she is for the people who gave her meaningful work to and trusted her with it. I hope you can all take some inspiration and understanding away from Maggie’s powerful journey just like I did.

This post originally appeared on The Vancouver Care Project and is edited and republished here with permission from the author.

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Rachel is a 17-year-old high school student from Vancouver. A travel enthusiast and social justice advocate, Rachel's passions have brought her to the United Nations New York and rural Tanzania on service trips. Her passion for social change and love for storytelling have enabled her to create the Vancouver Care Project project, a virtual storybook sharing stories of those who live work and volunteer on the downtown Eastside of Vancouver or are marginalized in its surrounding communities.