Day 284 - Melynda (2nd person I approached)
October 11, 2014 - It would have been hard not to spot Melynda. She was sitting at the corner of a busy intersection, wearing a sign on her head. She is upbeat and clearly has a sense of humour. Melynda wasn’t just sitting wearing a sign. She was making eye contact and smiling at people. A couple of passersby made polite comments about her sign but offered no change. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled regardless. I always try to make eye contact and acknowledge people asking for change. I asked Melynda is she’d chat with me. When she said yes, I told her I’d sit off to the side, so that I didn’t keep her from connecting with passersby. I sat on the sidewalk next to her.
Melynda was born in Maple Ridge, a small city located in the northeastern section of Metro Vancouver, British Columbia (BC).
“My father is from the Wapachewunak Nation in Northern Saskatchewan, and my mother is English and Irish. I have a twin sister, two foster sisters and a foster brother,” she told me.
“I’m five minutes older than my twin sister. We lived with our parents until we were one year old. My mother was a drug addict. We were removed from our home and put into foster care,” she said.
“When we were two years old, we went back to live with our mother again. That lasted for just a few months.” The sisters were fostered into another family.
“I only lived with that one family,” says Melynda.
“That’s where I have my foster brother and sisters from. Then I got kicked out.” I asked why.
“I was self harming,” she said, showing me both of her forearms. They were crisscrossed with scars from using razor blades and knives to cut herself.
“Cutting is different for everyone. For me, it would be when I was stressed, and it was building up inside me. It felt like I could sit back and take a deep breath after I did it. It felt like it was the only way to let go of the emotions and pain I was feeling.” She started cutting herself at thirteen. As Melynda was telling me this, an elderly lady with a walking cane stopped just at our feet. I thought she was waiting to cross the street. She steadied herself and slowly bent over and dropped two dollars in the hat on the ground at Melynda’s feet. She smiled sweetly. Melynda said “Thank you so much,” to the lady. She didn’t saying anything, and straightening herself, stood up, turned and walked away.
When she got kicked out, Melynda was in Grade eight.
“I was put in a bunch of different group homes. I didn’t know very much. I didn’t know anything about drugs or about panhandling. I guess I had lived a sheltered life with my foster family. I ran away from the group homes a lot, and I’d sleep on the streets. Some of the group homes were awful, and I’d rather sleep on the streets than stay there. I would go to the mall and steal food,” she said.
Melynda hitch-hiked across the country.
“I made it to Montreal and got arrested there. When you run away from a group home, if you don’t report back within a twenty-four hour period, you’re reported as missing. They flew me back to BC. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been arrested for running away,” she told me.
Melynda had continued to make eye contact with people walking past us. Her head was turned away from me and she was looking at people crossing the street, coming towards where we were sitting on the sidewalk.
“I’m still listening, I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring you,” she said to me. I asked her what her motivation for running away was.
“A lot of those group homes aren’t nice places. There was one I left, they made me go through a metal detector every time I came home. They took our shoes away at night. I wasn't staying in a place like that. That’s not a home,” she said, shaking her head.
“I started drinking at thirteen, and I started to use drugs at fourteen,” she said. Melynda thought about making changes to her life when she was seventeen.
“I wanted to go back to school. Even though I left in Grade eight, it was determined that I would be suited to go into a Grade twelve level program. They (the BC Government Ministry of Children & Family) wouldn’t let me go to school unless I went into the Maples (adolescent treatment centre. *Fact Check - see link below). I had no choice. It was a month-long program where they evaluate if I’m ok to go to school. I got into Grade twelve and was doing the classes through correspondence. But I was too lazy and I never finished it,” she said.
Alcohol has never been an issue for Melynda.
“I might drink occasionally but it’s not a big deal. Drugs became a big deal, and a big issue. Until three months ago, I was shooting up heroin. But I’ve been clean for the last three months,” she said, looking me in the eye. I congratulated her for that achievement, and asked why she had decided to give up drugs.
“Because I don’t want to be a fucking drug addict for the rest of my life,” she said with clarity.
Melynda has been living on the street for the last month.
“I just got signed onto social assistance last week. I’m hoping to get my own place soon. I have find the place myself, they won’t help. I’ll get $375 dollars a month for rent. I’m hoping to get a room through the Portland Hotel Society. I’m going there next week,” she said. Melynda continued smiling at people. We had been chatting for about fifteen minutes. Apart from the older lady, only one other person had given her any change. As we're chatting, a few people smile at her, mainly because she's animated, bubbly and wearing a smile-inducing sign around her face.
Melynda is nineteen.
“My sister lives in Toronto. She’s doing her own thing out there. I miss her, yeah,” she says. She maintains contact with her birth parents and her foster parents. I thank her for letting me sit down to chat with her, and for sharing her story so honestly.
“You know if more people stopped and spent a little time with me, they’d learn that I’m not panning money for booze or drugs. They’d actually find out I’m a nice person, but no one wants to take the time. Most people just assume I’m a druggie,” she says.
“I’m in this area from time to time. Sometimes I’m over near Commercial Drive as well. Make sure you say hi if you see me,” she says.
"Thanks for the talk. Have a great day!" #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/maples/