Single mothers who end up homeless are often caught between the need for employment and the high cost of childcare. ILLUSTRATION BY ADVOCATE NEWS SERVICES

You can’t always know where life will lead, says formerly homeless single mom

Red Deer woman can’t get a job because she can’t afford child care

This single mother of two has been homeless twice.

Although she’s not a drug user or alcoholic, Brittany says she’s often felt public stigma and judgment.

“Some people think that all homeless people are addicts, but I’ve met many sober people in shelters who never touch alcohol,” says the 28-year-old Red Deer resident.

“People also think that all homeless people are rude or dirty, and that’s wrong, too.”

But the comment that hurts the most is when people say: “It’s your own fault.”

While “some life choices I made weren’t the best,” Brittany admits, at the time, “you don’t always see where they’re going to lead you …”

The mom of an eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son was born in Calgary to a young woman who wasn’t ready for parenthood.

Brittany grew up living with her father, but was raised by live-in nannies because her dad was flying to Fort McMurray for work.

There were many upheavals: Her father’s new wife became an alcoholic. The family moved briefly to Ontario, and then back to Alberta, and Brittany discovered her previous friends had moved on.

The toughest time was when she was 10: “My stepmother told me to move out … then she moved her own son in,” recalls Brittany.

She began living with her mother, who was trying to be a good parent, but Brittany was carrying around too much rejection and anger.

She ran away from home repeatedly — “which I feel terrible about now that I’m a mother.”

As a result, Brittany was placed into two foster homes and two group homes.

At age 17, she moved in with a boyfriend until they broke up.

She enrolled in an oilfield administration program at a private college that she later discovered had a sketchy reputation in the community. She says she left without a diploma because she couldn’t line up an internship.

By age 20, she had given birth to her daughter. Three years later, she had a son with the same man — a friend she’d known for many years. Brittany says both unplanned pregnancies happened while she was on birth control.

Living with her children’s father didn’t work out for many reasons, says Brittany, who believes she had undiagnosed depression. If she’d received medication or counselling, she feels she would have had more energy to fight for a more positive life.

While her kids’ dad initially paid child support, he later drifted away and became a drug addict. He fatally overdosed three years ago.

Brittany felt caught in a vicious circle — she couldn’t bring home a paycheque because she couldn’t afford child care.

She went on government assistance and moved into temporary housing run by a private foundation. She had to leave when her time in the facility expired — even though she couldn’t find an affordable apartment in Calgary.

This was the first time she became homeless. “It felt defeating,” she recalls. “It definitely feels like you’re powerless, helpless… like you’ve lost everything…”

She and her children moved in with a friend until she could get a space in the Calgary family shelter. Once there, she met other parents and kids, some who had resorted to sleeping in cars.

A housing worker helped her, her son and daughter get into a subsidized residence. Brittany says she might still be living there, except for the “crazy” family next door. She witnessed repeated violent incidents, including a stabbing and a screaming child getting dragged by the hair.

“I was calling the police at least once a month and calling child services constantly,” but nothing changed — except the neighbours began threatening her for informing on them.

Brittany had a friend in Red Deer. She decided that a smaller, more affordable city would be a better place to live.

The last time she was homeless was after moving here in November.

Brittany contacted Safe Harbour and was referred to the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter. She’s grateful the non-profit took her and the children in for six weeks until a housing worker with the Central Alberta Women’s Outreach could link her with local services.

She now lives in a two-bedroom basement suite in a four-plex in north Red Deer and is getting help working on “my issues.”

Brittany is relieved she can stay as long as she continues to pay the rent. She’s managing to cover the $1,100 a month with her social assistance cheque and her child tax credit, if she dips into her food budget a little.

So far, Brittany hasn’t had to use the food bank.

She looks forward to finding a job once her son is in school in September. “I’d like to work in a bakery because I love to cook.”

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