Christmas marks a special time of the year for Shirley Jones, not only because she gets to spend rare moments with her family, but because it’s when she decided she no longer wanted to be homeless.
Jones, who grew up in an abusive childhood, struggled with alcohol addiction for years, fuelled by her daughter who was addicted to drugs and was living on the streets.
“My fear was getting that knock on the door saying she had passed away,” said Jones, who was originally from Port Renfrew and a member of the Pacheedaht band. “I was determined to save her life, I wasn’t going to let her live like that.”
Jones’ memory is foggy when asked about how she came to live on the streets, but said she fell through the cracks. After her father passed away in 2006, she completely “gave herself to the streets” of downtown Victoria.
Initially, she enjoyed having no responsibilities and not answering to people.
But living on the streets quickly took a toll on her.
Every night was a constant struggle to find places to eat, sleep and get clean clothes. She frequented Street Link, a homeless drop in centre, Our Place and panhandled.
“I must have been really sick and angry inside to be able to tolerate the cold weather,” Jones said. “That was the hardest, finding some place warm, dry and secure, and be able to struggle to keep yourself warm throughout the night.”
She admitted to using other people and breaking trust with friends in order to feed her addiction.
After five years of living on the streets, it was on Dec. 25, 2011 when she had no family, that she decided to make a life-altering change.
“I realized I used to work, I had a home, I had a family, why am I here?” she said, adding addiction runs in her family. “I decided I didn’t want my grandchildren and children to succumb to my addictions.”
Jones sought treatment at Hannah House, a women’s residential treatment centre for addiction, in Maple Ridge.
Since returning to Victoria, the now 53-year-old has been sober for the last five years, despite the heartbreaking loss of her five-month-old grandson from sudden infant death syndrome, her mother and friends she lived with on the street.
Now she’s on a better path. She has been working at Our Place since 2011, cleaning the facility as she would her own home. She is also a role model for her six-year-old granddaughter, who lives with her.
Jones is one of dozens of people who credit Our Place with her transformation from living on the streets to a person giving back to the community.
“It builds courage and strength having a shower, clean clothing, a blanket, pillow, chairs to sit down and rest for a while, and food,” she said. “That’s what Our Place is about, helping one another in distress.”
In November, Our Place served a record-breaking 63,000 meals and extended their hours of operation from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
To meet the increasing need for shelter space, it also added 10 mats to the 40 current mats available in its winter shelter at the First Metropolitan United Church.
With more people needing assistance, the community centre is calling on the public for donations.
“We’re relying heavily on our partners and local grocery stores. But the truth is, this increased demand means we could use extra financial support this season,” said executive director Don Evans.
To donate visit ourplacesociety.com.