In 2011, I began working in a women’s homeless shelter in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside as a support worker. The job description was basic: set out mats of the floor for sleeping, clean the bathrooms, keep up with laundry, and make sure there was always hot soup on the stove. There were also the tasks I found were left off the job description: offer comfort to those who had lost their homes and children, break up fights over drug debts, and make our transgendered women feel safe in the shelter.
Most nights, 4am would slowly arrive, and a woman would wander up to the desk and tell me she couldn’t sleep. Instead of taking advantage of the rare quiet of the shelter, she would instead sit up at the high desk counter and talk about her life. Sometimes the woman would talk about her life before the downtown Eastside, when she still lived up north with friends and family. Sometimes the woman would describe a terrible accident that caused her so much pain that she started medicating with street drugs. Each night the woman and the story was different, but the resilience each showed in facing the night with bravery and vulnerability was universal.
After many nights at the shelter, I returned to school and became a nurse. I continue to work in the downtown Eastside providing mental health and addition care to many of the same women who I used to see at the shelter. With my Nurse Practitioner degree, I hope to support the physical and psychological resilience of these women through radical compassionate care.