Kymba is ready to speak, and to let her voice be heard. It has been a long road to get here.
As she tells her story, it is clear that though she has always had something to say, she has not always been listened to. Very often, people didn’t respect her space, her voice, and in frustration she would explode in anger and sometimes violence; and things got worse.
It wasn’t always that way. Kymba remembers her road to the street. She was in her own apartment but got caught in a cycle of drugs and bit by bit she lost everything. Later she lived with a roommate who was abrasive and hard to get along with. She moved across the hall to share with another woman, who smothered her – not listening when Kymba said she needed her space. In a short time, she decided that living on the street would be better.
So, she bought a tent and moved out; but though she kept trying, people still weren’t listening, and her reaction was anger. She got kicked out of some programmes, including ICCS’s Samaritan House, and started to become silent – afraid to have a voice. It was safer to hunker down in alcoves than to be ignored.
But it was so tiring and soon, it made her ill.
She ended up in the hospital, but even there people wouldn’t listen. “I had an infection that made me really sick and I kept getting so sick that I couldn’t be without care… [but] I just didn’t have it to explain. I was so sick…” Kymba pauses, and tears roll down her face, “And they put me out on the street ….”
It was rock bottom. The RCMP returned her to the street late one night, leaving her and her belongings at the side of the road, but Kymba was still very ill and within moments she collapsed. Someone called an ambulance and she was taken back to the hospital…but her belongings were left at the side of the road. When she finally left the hospital for good, there was nothing left and – after being kicked out of most programmes in the city for her anger and violence – she had nowhere to go.
“That’s when I called Ronell [the Programme Manager at Samaritan House] and asked her to please give me a chance. Please, just I won’t be bad. I just didn’t have it in me to go back on the street again.”
A few months earlier that Kymba met Tanya, her VIHA case worker, and though neither realised it at the time, their first encounter ironically hit on the area of Kymba’s biggest struggle. Tanya gave Kymba a phone, part of a distribution of cell phones to vulnerable people by Telus in their “For Good COVID-19 Emergency Response program.” The program addresses the real need that people have to communicate.
At the time, no one would work with Kymba. But Tanya, undeterred, asked a simple question that no one else had bothered to ask – “What are your triggers?” She knew that people don’t act or react in a certain way for no reason – for everyone, all of us, certain things take us one step too far, and when we get there, it is very easy to overreact.
For Kymba it was being heard and being given her space. “I don’t like it when people are in my face,” she said. Another trigger was people speaking at her not to her. “ I have a hard time with people that won’t take no for an answer. Why I have to go to such lengths to get someone to listen to me is hard.”
When Kymba called Samaritan House that night, she didn’t have a lot of hope, but Ronell did what no one expected – she agreed to give Kymba a chance, just 24 hours, to prove she could stay there without becoming angry or violent. She did it that day, and the next, and before long, she had stayed in Samaritan House for 60 days.
At the same time, Kymba was learning what she could do to filter her anger and calm herself down – and be heard. She knew this was her last chance, and she took it. She had to let people know that she could control her anger and aggression when they weren’t listening to her. What she learned was that though she couldn’t make people hear her all the time, she could make herself react in a different way, stepping back – sometimes literally – rather than letting their actions provoke a negative reaction in her. “Stepping away has to be done sometimes and I learned how to do it in the best way without using violence… yeah I don’t do that any more, I step back from situations instead of putting so much effort into them that they grow their own energy… That’s what gets me in trouble, having too much energy build up in me, so I just step away from that.”
To her surprise, as she changed, the reactions of others to her changed as well. “People were acting different; they were giving me space. I didn’t have to fight for it, I just had to learn to speak graciously and take the chance to let other people know that I’m not the fighter I was.”
She also learned that she could ask for help. She was gaining her voice and learning to use it in different ways.
After 2 months in Samaritan House, it was time to move on, and the suggestion was made for her to go to the ICCS sister programme Safe Harbour. Though she didn’t want to go, she made the move, and never looked back.
Now, months later, Kymba is in her own apartment. Her face cracks into a beaming smile as she talks about it. “I am in my own place and it feels good,” she says. “I just love my space – its mine.” It’s not always easy, but day by day she keeps working to keep her home and keep on track.
“I miss my alcoves sometimes. As weird as that sounds.. because there’s nature right there. I miss nature, yeah I miss nature sometimes.”
Kymba keeps a reminder of nature on her arm. Winding up her left hand from her thumb to her lower arm is a tattoo of a graceful flowering vine. The reminder isn’t just of nature, though. The tattoo symbolises her four children, and it is the constant reminder of them that keeps her on track.
Her progress is changing perspectives for her as well. Now that she has a home, she is starting to think about having a future. It’s still a struggle, but she wants to stay in her apartment, and some day, just maybe, be an advocate and peer support for others – giving them a voice too.