Diane Vaughn has been an Mainstay Housing tenant for the past 4 years.
If you could snap your fingers and grant me one wish, it would be that everybody who is in political office would have to live in subsidized housing or some kind of housing like the ones I've been in. They would have to be on a fixed income for at least 6 months and have to live the way we do. Like having to worry about whether they're going to run out of money before the end of the month and choose between food or medication.
I wish politicians had to live in subsidized housing on fixed incomes for six months.
If they knew what it was like, maybe when it came time for them to make cutbacks, they might not be so hasty about making a cutback in the wrong place. They're not going to think, "Those people don't need that money, they're just numbers, they're not real people, they're not human." Instead they're going to think, "Well, I know what it's like for them to be on a fixed income. I know what it's like to be in subsidized housing. I know the hell they're going through". Those politicians are going to think twice.
A lot of people live under bridges or in doorways because they don't know how to get other housing and when they do find it, landlords say, "We can't take a chance on people like you." It's like you have a great big label across the front. They don't see us as being normal. It's like we have purple heads. We're different. And they think maybe we'll do something bad. That's the first thing I say when people ask me about mental illness, "I don't want to be labeled." I'm Diane. I have epilepsy. I have a disability and some medical problems, but I can do things just like everybody else. I just need a little bit of help.
If I wasn't living in Mainstay, I'd probably be in a shelter. There's a couple for women or families. There's a room that would have 4 or 5 bunk beds in it. If you're lucky, you don't get a top bunk. There was one on Sherbourne St. and they had the first room inside the door. I never grabbed that room. That was for the really ill women. The ones that couldn't care for themselves or mumbled or talked to themselves, shouted at people in the street. And in the shelters I was always worried that I was going to have my stuff stolen, and I did have somebody going in my stuff and taking my clothes.
After I had some tests in the hospital, the shelter helped me find what they termed first step housing. It is housing for people who have trouble finding housing, and if you've been through the mental health system, you're a consumer-survivor, or you're hard to house. This place has 2 buildings with 4 and 5 bedroom units, and you have your own bedroom which you share with one person, and you have a mini-fridge in your room and a bed. They provide you with the stuff that you need. You get 2 locked cupboards in the kitchen, and you get to use the living room and stuff. There are usually 4 and 5 other women, depending on whether you want a wet or dry apartment. That means drinking. Dry means a little bit of smoking, no drinking, which is what I chose. I had a roommate who had some mental health problems way worse than I ever knew about. Sometimes when she didn't take her medication, she would paint my bedroom door with turpentine, or, because my window was permanently propped open and 6 inches from hers, she would throw lit pieces of paper in there or put a mouse through the window. She was the room mate from hell.
This is my place and nobody else can get in.
Fortunately I was part of something known as the Keele Street Women's Group, which is run by the Canadian Mental Health Association - West Metro. I'm on their advisory board now. I've been in my group for 6 years give or take. And they knew I was going through hell with my room mate. They got me this apartment with Mainstay. I told them I needed a one bedroom apartment and that's what I have.
I feel safe here. This is my place and nobody else can get in. Every night I lock that door, and I know nobody comes in here but me unless I've given them permission. I have a roof over my head and I'm not responsible for anybody else but myself. I make decisions for myself. If I need help, if something is very wrong, then I know I can go to Bruce, the Mainstay Housing Worker. He is one of the people who is understanding.
I need to feel safe.