“I always seem to get stuck between a rock and a hard place. WEAC is a refuge.”

The large wedge-shaped four-story brick building in front of where you’re standing is called Gibson Block and it has been a shelter for women in need since 2012. Words like sanctuary and refuge are often used to describe WEAC, a 64-bed emergency shelter that provides respite from the harsh realities that come with living rough.    

Of the 2,100 people who are experiencing homelessness every day in Edmonton, 47% self-identify as female. Intimate partner and/or family violence is a key pathway into homelessness for women and girls. Approximately 700 women and 236 accompanying children are turned away from domestic violence shelters across Canada each day due to the capacity issue.

Life on the street can be harsher for women and girls as they face unique and profound forms of violence once they enter homelessness, including much higher rates of involvement in human trafficking.

Take a listen to the story from Mel who has experienced homelessness in the past and currently is in our reintegration program with our chaplain Debbie.

I just got out April 7th. I went back January 26th and had my revocation hearing on April 6th and got out the next day. Prior to that I was in from November 2009. I made to EIFW [Edmonton Institution for Women] in 2011 and served my whole time there until I got out in October of 2018. So I’ll work that way and then I’ll work back, I guess.

Back in 2009 I got arrested for second degree murder and I went in and the trail was, like, four weeks. And I tried claiming self-defense and I ended up getting manslaughter and got sentenced to ten years and I went to EIFW in May of 2011 and then went for an appeal in January of 2012.

So the appeal was won, so my sentence and my conviction no longer existed, but in the time that I was at EIFW I was trying to get into programming and change, ‘cause I was so done with my lifestyle, but I couldn’t because I lied at my first trial. So everything was based off of a lie, and I ‘m trying to remember all the lies and I couldn’t say anything ‘cause I was sitting on an appeal…it was really stressful.

So in that time that’s when I had met Snowy [Mustard Seed Chaplain]. I started working with him from pretty much day ond, and I got high my first month in at EIFW, and it was June 15th when I finally said I was done. I was at Bible study that same night and I accepted Christ that day and so when I went back for my second trial it didn’t even make trial.

I phoned my lawyer and told him what actually happened that day and even though I knew that I was going to get second degree murder and a life sentence I just…I didn’t want to start my journey off on a lie, so I ended up getting sentence to life with no chance of parole for ten years, and I apologized to the family and after that it was just, the healing journey begins.

I remember crying for the first three months, and I was working with pretty much everybody every day, and then I started to finally, like, go off and practice my skill sets…and I moved to the west end [in 2017] and found a place in Lewis Estates and then I ended up getting into a relationship in 2018, just a year after I got out.

And after I had baby I suffered from baby blues, and it turned into post-partum depression, and everything then, from after I had baby, was just…I felt like where I was ten years prior to that. I was in a negative mindset, I shut everybody out, didn’t reach out to nobody, and I ended up hitting him [her partner] and her called my PO [parole office] and that’s when I got pulled, because of my crime – it was on my intimate partner, when I did my crime back in 2009.

There was always this one lady, she was deputy warden for a really long time; she said to me, even two weeks before my parole hearing, she goes, “people like you don’t change.” So when I went back she just gave me that smirk and she’s kind of like, “I told you so,” and oh it was brutal going back.

Everybody who came to see me, because I was in isolation for two weeks, and everybody who came to see me gave me that exact same look of disappointment, and I was so angry for, like, the first month I was back.

And then now, when I got granted my revocation hearing, there’s no contact with us normally, you have to have a mediator, that’s where Deb comes in – Deb and Snowy had been helping us with getting baby dropped off and stuff. I’m always open with Deb and Snowy because it stays between us…if I phone her and say, “hey, I feel like relapsing,” we’ll talk about it and then I’ll be good by the end of it.

Next stop, we delve a little deeper into the impact of the arts and youth homelessness. Head north along 96th street and stop at the northwest corner of 102A Avenue, the middle of the Quarter’s Art District.