MIRA WILLIAMSON – Samantha Humphrey may call herself “very boring.”
Don’t believe her.
Most post-secondary students worry about midterms and assignments. In the fall of 2018, she worried about shelter.
“It’s hard to put it into words what it’s like,” said Humphrey. “It’s not something you ever plan on. It’s not something you expect. It’s probably one of the worst things you can go through because you’re completely on your own, and you’re at risk to the elements and people out there who just want to take advantage of you. It’s very terrifying.”
At 23, Humphrey had to leave a dangerous living situation, which left her without a home in October 2018.
Jamie Lee Arseneau, a community engagement coordinator at Youth Opportunities Unlimited, said female-focused shelters can be safer for youth experiencing homelessness as they can feel vulnerable to abuse, theft and trafficking in these situations.
Humphrey noted that the staff at the Centre of Hope were “super supportive” and trying their best. Unfortunately, she said being a young woman in that environment is off-putting. She had to sleep with her backpack on her to keep it safe.
“It’s because everyone there is going through their own stuff. They’re all in survival mode so it’s nothing saying they’re bad people, but it’s a very worrisome thing to be in,” she said. “I was terrified staying there. I’d rather face the streets than stay there.”
And for two week she did.
The 24-year-old knew about YOU before she experienced homelessness. YOU helped Humphrey get her GED so she could go to college. She then got an employment counsellor and “just kind of stuck around a bit after that.”
She hid part of her situation from the employees, until she became concerned for her safety in October 2018. She had just started her first year at Fanshawe College’s three-year Child and Youth Care diploma program.
The second year now lives on her own in an apartment, works at Ardene part-time, volunteers at YOU as much as she’s allowed to, balances a full course load, goes to the movies and has started playing guitar again. In her words, she’s “doing pretty much whatever’s thrown at me.” This fall, that was competing (and winning her match) in the November Fight to End Homelessness.
She’d also like to combat some common misperceptions about people experiencing homelessness. She said lot of the people have mental health concerns and do want help—even if some may believe they didn’t do anything to avoid homelessness.
“We have some people on the streets who are younger than us. There’s 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids out there,” said Humphrey. “And the people out there, a majority of them they’re fighting to try and get back on their feet. I think a lot of people need to understand that just because they’re out there, doesn’t mean they’re bad people.”
She urged Londoners to not ignore people experiencing homelessness, swear at them or treat them as “sub-human.”
“They’re having a rough time; there’s no need to make it even rougher by being very ignorant towards them.” she said. “Just be human. That’s the easiest way I can explain that.”
Humphrey said she would like to see more support and early intervention for at-risk people and potentially see some of the closed buildings downtown transformed into affordable housing.
Of course, offering housing won’t solve everything. She said people will need more outreach workers to help the transition and get people back on their feet, like YOU helped her.
YOU allowed her to expand her skillset. She said they helped her figure out exactly what she wants to do and encouraged her to accomplish it.
“It’s just a very supportive, caring, genuine place. No matter what a youth is going through, they’ll either have resources here, or they’ll connect you with what you need to get you back on track,” she said.
Humphrey’s Child and Youth Care diploma teaches how to deal with youth in difficult circumstances—how to identify an issue, reach out to them, help them, and more. Her goal is to work for YOU.
Now, she’s struggling to decide what position she’d like to land when she graduates next year. Her current top two are facilitating job employment programs or doing outreach for high-risk youth.
“I’m happy to do whatever they allow me to do,” she laughed.
This article was originally published on January 31, 2020 in Mastermind.