Into homelessness and out again
By Stephanie Gauthier
How do you wind up experiencing homelessness? The answer is rarely straight forward. For Soren, it all started when he lost his car.
“My car got impounded,” he says. “I lost a brand-new Honda GSR, a little racecar thing that I bought with my dad’s inheritance. The only thing I ever got from my father, and I ended up losing it over $900.”
This payment would’ve released the car from impound. Soren and his partner worked at an orchard at the time where their housing was provided. The season ended shortly before the car was impounded so they had also just lost their stable housing.
“Once the car was gone, so were 90 percent of our belongings,” Soren says. “We were basically left with nothing.”
They didn’t have a home or a means of transportation that could help them find new jobs. This led Soren to experience homelessness for the first time in his life. It was two years after he came to Kelowna from Powell River, BC. A friend from home had encouraged him to move to Kelowna.
“He led me to believe Kelowna was all that and a bag of chips,” Soren says.
He now counts the move as a misstep and a contributing factor leading him to homelessness. He didn’t have a local support structure that could have changed his direction.
“You get in that rut and if you don’t have friends or family who can help you out of it, there’s not a whole lot you can do.”
Soren reveals more factors that led to homelessness as his story unfolds, things predating his arrival in Kelowna, when working in the logging industry.
“I got crushed by a log when I was 19,” he says. “It drove me into the ground like a nail. Broke my back, broke my neck, shattered my pelvis, broke my spleen. I spent thirteen months in the hospital. I should be dead.”
The accident didn’t kill Soren. He recovered and continued working in logging. He even started his own business, making millions of dollars in the process. However, he came out of the accident with constant pain and a dependence on prescription opiates, which eventually led him to use heroin. He blames doctors for many of his battles with addiction.
A twist in Soren’s path came when softwood lumber prices tanked and took his business interests with them. This was one reason he left Powell River for Kelowna.
“I lost everything,” he says. “I lost every asset I had.”
Soren’s story demonstrates how homelessness can happen to anyone and how those who experience homelessness often have no control over it. For Soren, homelessness has meant hardship, trauma and pain.
“It finally got to the point where we were living in a tent in the bush,” he says. “I did that for six years.”
He experienced homelessness for ten years in total and most of that time was spent unsheltered, living outdoors through all seasons. It’s taken a toll on him. In 2021, he had seven surgeries to repair his left knee.
“The joint rotted out. It went untreated and then my leg just swelled up like a huge, pus leg,” he says. “I spent four years hobbling around homeless with a leg that didn’t work.”
Things are improving for Soren. Shortly after his surgery, he got a spot in Ellis Place, a subsidized, supportive housing site in Kelowna. He’s in a methadone program there. A pharmacist delivers his dose every morning, making the program a lot easier to stick with than when he experienced homelessness.
Looking toward the future, Soren is optimistic but cautious.
“Once you have a home you can look at other things from there,” he says. “I hope to overcome a lot of things. The streets really kicked the s*** out of me.”
Ellis Place opened in November 2020. It is operated by Canadian Mental Health Association, Kelowna with 38 units of supportive housing for adults 19 years old and over. It features a large common space to encourage building connection amongst residents, peer supporters and staff. Supportive housing is subsidized housing with onsite support to help people who are at risk or experiencing homelessness find and maintain stable housing.