Read Marissa's story about her experience with homelessness.
In August 2022, at the time of the story recording, Marissa was a participant in the emergency shelter motel program in Middlesex County. Marissa is twenty-four years of age.
This is not the first time in Marissa's life that she has experienced homelessness. The first experience was when she was sixteen years old. She was living in Cochrane, a town in northeastern Ontario about an hour drive from Timmins.
Marissa had aspirations to be an actress. She wanted to go to art school but the school in her small town did not offer opportunities for her to pursue her dream. She had applied to some colleges for acting and was getting ready for student life.
"I had everything ready for an apartment, dishes and everything. Because every paycheck that I made working at Tim Hortons, I would go and buy stuff for an apartment when I would leave for college. So, eventually when I left, I would have everything and I wouldn't have to buy anything when I go to move out."
Marissa shares that her mother was struggling with severe mental health issues. Growing up, Marissa adds that she did not get along well with her younger brother which frustrated her mother. Marissa explains that one day her mother told her she was going to take her to a student residence in Sudbury, about a five-hour drive away from their home in Cochrane. She thinks she is going there to finish Grade 12 then return home. It was only after Marissa's mother dropped her off that she realized she was left at a homeless shelter. Marissa had nothing but a small suitcase and now was facing the harsh realities of homelessness.
"My mom basically dropped me off like a baby in a box with only a note. I was in complete shock when I found out. Once she dropped me off, she was gone. As soon as my mom got home, she packed up our house, sold everything and moved. Clearly she didn't want me going back home, and she definitely didn't tell me where she went."
Marissa lived in this shelter for around nine months. Being a child, Marissa was not able to apply to Ontario Works on her own. She needed a guarantor. The shelter staff had not faced this situation before but supported Marissa in applying for Ontario Works by acting as a guarantor.
From here, the shelter staff helped Marissa find an apartment. She stayed in this apartment for a year and a half. Being only sixteen-years old and living on her own, it was a huge adjustment for Marissa. After school each day, she would work an eight-hour shift at the local McDonald's. After a long bus ride, she would arrive home at 2 a.m. and then wake up the next day for school.
“Eventually I got burnt out and I stopped going to work because I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t pay my bills anymore – they had me paying rent, heat, hydro, water tank rental, and content insurance – all while being sixteen. I had no idea what I was doing.”
Marissa lived in a few apartments but each time left because of concerns she had with her landlords and poor living conditions.
"I was telling my friend about how my landlord wouldn't fix things and how my apartment had bed bugs. He invited me to move into his home that had a one bedroom basement apartment. He said I could pay the same rent and use the Wi-Fi."
Things seemed to be turning around for Marissa. She was pregnant and felt thankful for her living conditions. Her friend was also a great help to her, supporting her and her fiancé in getting to medical appointments. Until one day her friend unexpectedly passed away. Marissa soon finds out that her friend's ex-girlfriend had her name on the home as well and the house came into her possession. Marissa was served a no-fault eviction notice. This was a week after giving birth.
A friend offered some shelter in his home in Albin, a small town near Parry Sound.
"It's right off the highway, where there's nothing around, no stores nearby to get to. After arriving, we find out that the water wasn't drinkable. My fiancé had to quit his job because of the move, which meant we had no money to buy clean water. So, for a time we had to drink the tap water and we all got horribly sick with a bacterial infection. Even after my fiancé was able to get a job, it was still a forty-five minute drive to get clean water."
Soon after settling into Albin, Marissa began to struggle with post-partum depression due to the seclusion and isolation of her town.
"My fiancé worked all day and I had no one to talk to. I was very sad."
Suddenly, Marissa was facing homelessness once again. Her friend lost her home and she needed to relocate. Marissa frantically called around to everyone she knew, and the only person willing to take her, her fiancé, and newborn in was her uncle in Strathroy.
"My uncle allowed us to stay at his place for about two months until he realized that the children's aid would be meeting with them at his house every week. Unfortunately, this did not fly well with him, and he decided to kick us out."
Marissa, her fiancé, and their newborn child were accepted into the emergency shelter motel program in Middlesex County in July 2022.
Marissa is a Personal Support Worker on maternity leave and her fiancé is working a three-year contract position in the area. For Marissa, finding an affordable rental or home has not been hindered by lack of income - it is the credit checks that are used to determine suitability.
"When I first experienced homelessness, I racked up a lot of debt. I was a sixteen-year old with a credit card. I didn't know how to responsibly use it. Now my credit isn't good."
Marissa was asked what she would like people to know about homelessness and what she hopes will change as a result of others hearing her story.
"I want to say that homelessness isn't dirty or gross, and we're not disgusting. People from anywhere and any financial status can become homeless in a heartbeat. I want people to know it is not just drug addicts and drunk people. Life goes up and down, it's crazy sometimes, and you just can't always control what happens. I couldn't control my mother kicking me out; there's nothing I can do about that now. I'm just trying to find somewhere for me and my child to live."