Ann is one of the ‘secret campers’ I recently met.

Ann worked as an infusion pharmacist for decades. Approximately seven years ago, her husband unexpectedly passed away. His dying wish was that their only daughter would go to college and graduate debt free.

This was the path Ann and her daughter were on… until Ann and several colleagues were laid off. The expenses began piling up as her daughter was knee deep in college by this time. Despite what she describes as a valiant effort, Ann could not find new work.

The unemployment and life insurance payments she received were just enough to cover her daughter’s monthly tuition, leaving only a few leftover crumbs for Ann. Ann gave up their home and resorted to camping.

Ann is smart, articulate and deeply compassionate. Perhaps not intentionally but intuitively based on the tremendous losses she stacked up, Ann has surrounded herself with quite a large community of people… the guess is that 30-50 people camp there. 

Ann is their Mama bear. She is very comfortable in this role, and in the life she has built there. Yet, several campers privately shared their concerns about the physical and mental abuse that Ann has repeatedly endured by visiting males.

When I asked her about whether she was actively using drugs, she vacillated. When I asked her if she was ready to return to the economic mainstream—my words not hers—she vacillated. She could only seem to recall the stress of that life before.

Ann experienced significant trauma as a result of the sudden loss of her husband, the loss of a job she held for years, the loss of their home and the life she once knew. It appears this trauma has gone unaddressed. Anosognosia, a deficit of self-awareness, is also likely.

Ann needs counseling. She needs community. She needs purpose…. In addition, she will likely need to be coerced into a program that provides due to her perceived comfort. These elements have gone by the wayside under government’s one-size-fits-all Housing First policy.

Government is failing Ann. We are failing her, too, by continuing to elect and re-elect “leaders” who continue this policy… a policy that promised to end homelessness in a decade when rolled out in 2013.

We must demand change. We must demand effectiveness. For Ann’s sake, and for our own.

Picture of Michele Steeb

Michele Steeb

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