'Saskatoon is crazy': ex-gang member climbs out of homelessness

CBC, Sep 13, 2015 - When Faith Eagle came to Saskatoon, she was ready to die. But before she got that far, she reached out. And today she can tell her story.

In fact, her story was one of several recently told in a documentary that premiered in Saskatoon last week called A Chance to Speak. She talked to CBC Saskatoon Morning radio host Leisha Grebinski about what it was like to go from homeless to hopeful.

"Saskatoon is crazy," Eagle said, when describing what it's like to be homeless in the city.

"People are actually living in houses, staying in apartment stairwells, because I've seen it for myself in the apartment that I was at. And kids all over the place, roaming around because they don't have that establishment, that foundation, that home of feeling secure. A lot of times you search for it. And a lot of times you run away."

Before she lived in Saskatoon, Eagle shared a house with as many as 30 people at one point on her home reserve. While that sounds stressful, she said there were parts of the experience that were positive.

"But we were safe though, that was the main thing." She said she was mostly living with family members, and they would budget, and share the cooking and cost of food.

"We were just trying to be safe. It was like a refuge for us. It was with our mom."

Turned to fighting

But there were other aspects of her life that were turbulent, traumatic and unstructured. Eagle said she sought out security by being part of gangs.

"For me, I liked to fight, everybody," she said.

"I wanted to feel in power. I wanted to feel like people were going to listen to me, that when I said something that they were just going to to bow down."

Eagle said she was seeking a sense of family and strength in gang life, but she was also drowning in addictions.

"I was just hurting myself. because I was addicted, I always drank. I was hurting."

If you haven't experienced a structured life, Eagle said, "you don't know how to be in civilization."

Eagle said she would feel automatically defensive if someone looked at her. She would assume she was being judged.

"You don't know the shame, the hurt that I'm carrying. And I didn't know how to express that."

Turning Point in Saskatoon

"I came to Saskatoon, and even though I was in a shelter, I reached out, because I wanted something different. Even though I came to Saskatoon initially to die, to try to find homes for my kids. I didn't want to give up there."

Eagle connected with an organization called STR8 UP that helps people get out of gangs.

She said they showed her support, showed her how one step at a time she could walk away from one life and into another.

"All they did was just sit there and listen to me."

And she now has a stable home. Someone who is part of her church was offering a place to stay. She applied for it, but was skeptical that she would get it.

"I thought, ugh, I'm not going to be accepted because they're going to know my reputation, they know my past, they know all these bad things about me. But that's what I was thinking about myself. So I did it and I got accepted."

It made a big difference. In October, Eagle said it will be one year that she is free from street drugs. Her children are now back living with her.

"I started teaching them communication, emotions."

She said before, she might have shooed them away when they came home from school. But now she talks to them about their day and works with them to express their emotions.

Her message for anyone who doesn't have secure housing or living on the streets is simple:

"That you are a valued human being, you may be homeless, struggling, but there is always hope `til your last dying breath. You can walk out of your shame. You can walk out of anything."

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