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Lize Keenan credits a Charlottetown women’s shelter with saving her life.
The 51-year-old woman, known to friends as "Miss Hollywood" for the considerable attention she gives to her make-up and colourful attire, found herself homeless for the first time in May.
She was evicted – she believes unfairly - from an apartment in the capital city.
She could not find a place to stay. So, she made her way to a graveyard for the night.
Then another one. And five more nights after that.
“I had no choice,’’ says Keenan.
The place, she says, was peaceful. Still, Keenan was cold, wet and scared.
Her first taste of homelessness has proven a tough pill to swallow.
Panhandling saw her self-esteem plummet.
“I had to start bumming on the street,’’ she says.
“I had a girl walk by me and say that I was a piece of garbage. I am not a piece of garbage. She does not know my circumstances. And it makes you feel low. It really does. It makes you feel bad.’’
Her health has also taken a mighty blow since the eviction more than three months ago.
She has lost roughly 30 pounds over that time. Her bony frame barely pushes the scale past 80 pounds today.
She turned for help at Anderson House, a provincial emergency shelter for women and children in need of safety because of violence in their lives.
Keenan was directed to Blooming House, a women’s shelter that opened in Charlottetown in late January.
She was welcomed in, she says, with love and compassion.
She would end up staying a total of 81 nights.
“It was great…I would have died if it wasn’t for Blooming House,’’ she says.
Keenan, who has been living in a low-income apartment since the beginning of August, would like to see Blooming House open 24/7, not its current 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. hours of operation.
She notes for 12 hours a day, she was still without a place to stay.
Liz Corney, one of the co-founders of Blooming House, would also love for the shelter to be open around the clock.
“The reality is we are trying to figure out how to pay the bills 12 hours a day,’’ she says.
Corney is still waiting for a formal agreement with the province to be put in place in order for Blooming House to receive $100,000 in operational funding that was promised in the recent budget.
“We are hoping to ask them for more than the $100,000 that they have put in the budget,’’ adds Corney.
“We believe they should give us more because of what they are giving to the men’s shelter and because of what our operating costs are.’’
The province recently announced it was giving $355,000 in annual operational funding to Bedford MacDonald House, a men’s shelter in Charlottetown.
The new funding will allow the shelter to continue to provide its current services and offer support to help men successfully transition away from homelessness through coaching, social interaction, direction to practical resources, lifestyle skill development and connection to community resources.
Keenan believes women are being short-changed.
"Why can't Blooming House have the same funding as the boys because girls are more vulnerable,'' she says.
Keenan says potential trouble lurks throughout the streets of Charlottetown for homeless women, notably men constantly looking to prey on their desperate circumstance.
A spokeswoman for the department of social development and housing says a community needs assessment is being conducted with current service providers to determine their current level of service, client numbers and future plans as well as projected future demand.
“We hope to have a final report and a plan in place in the next few weeks,’’ says the spokeswoman.
“While we finalize the report and determine the next steps from the recommendations, the province continues its financial support for Blooming House.’’
The province provided $60,000 in seed funding to Blooming House earlier this year through its Housing Action Plan.
Corney says frustration is building waiting for word of provincial support.
Blooming House, which has a staff of eight, has an annual operating budget close to $240,000.
“We cannot rely on the government,’’ she says.
“They have been slow. They have been up in the air (about financial support). We really need money right now.’’
Blooming House, which has room for up to eight women a night, has been given a two-year lease starting Sept. 1. Details are still being worked out with the church group that has supported the initiative from the start.
“We’re so excited,’’ says Corney.
“They’ve been so, so amazingly generous to us so far. They trust us. It’s just been a really great partnership.’’
Keenan is urging the province to put more money into women’s shelters and into low-income housing.
She will only be allowed to stay in her low-income apartment for 12 months, then must find another place – a challenge she fears may once again leave her homeless.
She says social services provides her only $588 per month for rent.
“Rent is $1,000 to $1,5000 a month,’’ she says.
“We need affordable housing and we need it now.’’