A New Way of Life

Just a few months ago John Lafrance was given keys to his first apartment in years. After countless cold nights on the streets and camping in parks, John was ready for the security that comes with a home.

 

John’s childhood wasn’t easy. He grew up in an abusive household, and when he was 15 years old he left home for good. Over the next few years the world would teach John about life and, in order to survive, he would learn quickly. In hindsight, he recalls his naivety. “When I left I knew nothing of the world. I slept in doorways on cold nights for years.”

 

John’s natural ability to make decisions in the face of fear led him to many places. He spent many of his young adult years traveling North America, making friends and exploring the wonders of the world.

 

John worked as a roofer, and in the late eighties he became a ticketed journeyman. For years John lived in the bustling city of Vancouver, held a steady job and moved through the daily routines that made up his life. But stability brought more than routine; it made space for his childhood trauma to surface.

 

Without the right supports to deal with his emotions, John found comfort in alcohol. He eventually found himself homeless and in the same situation as so many who live without the solid base of a home.

 

After a year of living in Beacon Hill Park and Tent-City, John made his way to Pacifica Housing, and with the support of Pacifica’s Streets to Homes Program, he finally found a home.

 

Streets to Homes is a housing first program that moves chronically homeless adults directly off the streets and into private market housing.

 

For John, it was a perfect fit. “Pacifica knew that I needed a home, and a home in the community. I am past the early steps of drug recovery and [being in the community] is more beneficial than being housed in supported housing.”

 

“When you do not have a space, you cannot do anything. And you start fading. Staying in parks, or a place like Tent-City, you begin to forget the things that made you who you are, and you become invisible. I had to keep moving, or I felt I would lose myself, I would become lost.”

 

These days the harmonica-loving, brown-eyed man seems anything but lost. As he shares the secrets of chocolate making with all its inserts and foils, it is clear that he has a new sense of hope.

 

For John, his new home is an opportunity to “step into a better world”. “I have a base, and I can start moving in the right direction. I can start making chocolate again, maybe start my own business or start working part time. I can create more meaning.”

 

Now that he has a home, John is able to address aspects of his life that previously overwhelmed him: chronic pain, sorting out his finances and finding his place in society at the age of 63.

 

“When you have been on the street too long and are adjusting to a place, it’s hard. You are alone and that is the hardest thing. To be able to keep a place you need support, and friendship. You need someone coming over and saying ‘Hello’.”

 

This support is a key component of what makes Streets to Homes so successful. In addition to a rent supplement to help offset the costs of housing, everyone in Streets to Homes has a case manager to help with challenges like isolation, accessing resources and reaching personal goals.

 

This October John will be moving into his fifth year of recovery from substance use. In the face of this huge success, he is clear about one thing; even though he now has a home and is stable in his recovery, “Life continues to take willpower and perseverance; it is a constant struggle.”

 

One of the most important things in John’s life at this time is the ability to make amends and restore his relationship with the world. At the end of the day he wants to know that his contributions far outweigh what he feels he has taken.

 

“I have been through just about anything you can imagine and I am learning to forgive. It is a big thing, and without learning to forgive I can’t move forward and onto better things.”

 

John is currently taking computer classes and pursues his creative side through writing stories and poetry.