The memories from Bernice Kamano's painful past are still fresh in her memory.
Kamano was just nine months old when she was taken from her mother and father and placed in the foster care system in Vancouver.
“I was a sick child. My mother took me to the hospital. Because my mother was aboriginal, I was apprehended,” said Kamano, who was a keynote speaker at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness' annual general meeting at the First Metropolitan United Church Tuesday.
For years, she jumped from home to home, never having a stable roof over her head.
As a child, she has very vivid memories of her experience living in an orphanage. Kamano's picture was published in a local newspaper asking for people to adopt her — though she never was. On another occasion, children in the orphanage lined up and adults would choose which child to take out on a day trip.
“It was a painful life. I pretty much had no family and lived alone, isolated and abandoned,” said Kamano, adding she battled addiction when she was older. “That pain never leaves you. People think you should get over it, but you don't. It's part of who you are. But what the pain doesn't do anymore is take you out.”
Now, the 67-year-old Victoria resident is standing tall and living in a home she can call her own.
“It's really nice to be secure. Living in foster care all the time, the concept of living in a home wasn't really a part of my reality,” Kamano said. “But now that I am in a home. It's my place and I can do what I want.”
Kamano, a member of the Kwakwaka'waka Nation, is currently using her own experience to help the aboriginal homeless community and help end homelessness in Victoria.
At the AGM, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps also kicked off a new homelessness awareness campaign, calling on the federal government to increase its investment in social housing by 0.6 per cent.
“We can see this stepping back — ongoing homelessness, people who are housing in increasing housing need, unstable housing, increased health and social service costs, death due to lack of shelter,” she said. “All we need is to increase the investment in social housing to 1.6 per of the federal budget and we can solve the problem.”
There needs to be 367 affordable housing units to end homelessness in the region, according to the coalition.