Ren’s story: Finding a safe space
If you visit the Resource Centre, you will likely meet Ren, a friendly man in his early 60s, always there to greet you with a smile and some banter. For over 14 years, Ren’s been a staple at the Centre and has no plans of slowing down.
Before volunteering at the Resource Centre and finding secure and safe housing, Ren spent over a decade living on the streets and in precarious housing.
“I was making an effort and the right doors opened,” said Ren about how things changed when he was finally able to find safe and secure housing and the Resource Centre.
Gaining a sense of purpose
Over the years, working the front desk, Ren’s seen many people come and go. The best part, he says, is the opportunity to watch others on their path to recovery.
“It’s really nice to see some of these people who are working on their program and there are major changes in the betterment of their lives,” comments Ren.
Working three shifts a week gives him a little extra money to help cover costs and gives him a little spending money.
The Volunteer Program at the Resource Centre gives people the opportunity to gain work skills and experience, and is made possible thanks to the generosity of donors. Volunteer positions are offered in a number of areas including food preparation, janitorial, dishwashing, store clerk and front desk reception. Members receive a stipend for each of these volunteer positions.
“Every dollar is needed … as you’ve noticed, the price of everything just keeps going up and up and up; and as a friend and I have noted, our pantries are going down and down and down,” comments Ren.
Volunteering also gives Ren a sense of purpose and meaning. “So today I have a double shift, and tomorrow morning I’ll have the same shift. That lets me be more professional here. It really makes me feel like I’m contributing, instead of just covering the hours.”
The difference housing can make
Having lived on the streets for so long has impacted Rens’ health. About five years ago, he had gastric bypass surgery to help with his diabetes. He’s done incredible work in keeping the weight off and keeping the diabetes in remission, and staying active.
But, the toll living rough has had on his body cannot be completely erased. While he enjoys volunteering at the Resource Centre, he needs to keep limited availability. “I work three shifts consecutively. For the simple reason is its going to take me two days to rest afterwards because, I just don’t have that energy anymore. You’ve got to know your body.”
Knowing your own body and taking care of it have only been made possible because of safe and secure housing. “These are health situations that I couldn’t consider when I was on the street. Because you’re in survival mode. You literally run a trap line. You go to one place for food, another for clothes.”
“I like where I am in my life right now. I’ve lost everything. But now, I’m very happy. And it’s because I almost lost it, it makes it sweeter. Because I didn’t have a home, it’s sweeter now that I do. Living with that deprivation gives you great appreciation afterwards.”
For someone who has lost it all—money, housing, loved ones—Ren still has a love for life.
Ren also attributes his happiness to 5 things:
- Safe and secure housing. Without safe and secure housing, Ren is certain he wouldn’t be where he is today. “Stable housing is so important for physical and mental recovery. Most people, give them their own place and all of a sudden, they start becoming the people they were before. All of a sudden, they’re not wearing the same clothes all the time and are looking for something nice to wear.”
- Learning to budget. “Budgeting is very hard for people on the streets. They don’t know how to manage their money … and learning that the 89 cent can of soup is just good as the more expensive one! And, coming to the realization that I can cook it for cheaper and better!” Learning to manage his money means Ren is better able to take care of himself, both mentally and physically.
- Learning to cook tasty and nutritious food. “What I’ve noticed, when you’re deprived for so long, that when you have money, you want all the stuff you were deprived of, which for me was food.” Being diagnosed with diabetes and having a gastric bypass changed everything. Ren realized that he had to make significant changes to have a meaningful life that he could enjoy. He cooks all his own meals and follows a strict diet to ensure he keeps the weight off and diabetes at bay.
- Finding humour. Ren often quotes a well-known Mark Twain quote: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Rather than stewing or wallowing and letting anger get the best of him, he turns to humour. “I’ve learned to laugh a lot in my life. And that’s been my saving grace.”
- A safe community. For Ren, having a safe place to go for community is key to his well-being “The Resource Centre is a safe place, and these people that are here, they are safe.”