Formerly homeless man's success story a sign of hope in Red Deer

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
March 31, 2018 - 7:00am Updated: April 2, 2018 - 5:43am

Ken Makinaw spent about three months last year surfing from one couch to another. Other nights he spent outside, sleeping in a parkade or staying awake all night inside a 24-hour McDonald’s.

Proudly, he says he managed to avoid the other dangers of being on the street.

In July, Makinaw was evicted from his apartment. Letting others take advantage of him by staying at his place without helping to pay rent finally took its toll.

“When I was homeless, I was praying to my higher power,” the 43-year-old Ermineskin Cree Nation member says. “That's what helped me. It got me through what was a time of despair.”

Getting through it wasn't easy, however.

First, Makinaw put himself through the social detox program at Safe Harbour for two months. Then he got an intake worker, and through the Central Alberta Women’s Outreach Society he was able to get back on his feet.

He’s now had a roof over his head for six months and is surviving and thriving on his own again, rather than on someone else’s sofa.

"I was sick and tired of going from place to place. That wasn't me. My late grandmother didn’t raise me to live that lifestyle, but I had no choice and I didn’t like it. I made the decision that I wanted a place of my own so I could better myself.”

That he did, learning how to budget, craft a resume, job hunt and do taxes, all of which were done with the assistance of his case manager Tamara Oakes, who would come into Makinaw’s home once a week to ensure he was maintaining his housing through goal planning.

“The best part is seeing people living pretty rough and then coming into the Red Deer Housing Team and then eventually seeing a set of keys in their hands,” says Oakes, who’s been working in this field for nine years. “That’s my happy moment for sure. It’s rewarding.”

With Makinaw’s success story in mind, Red Deer Housing Team lead Kathy Cave says there needs to be more options for those in our city without a home.

“Housing is a right, not a privilege. Do we need more supportive housing and affordable housing? Probably,” she says. “People need to understand that people are living in poverty and that they should have the right to afford affordable housing. There are a lot of single moms, single dads, and jobs that just don’t happen for people. Plus, the rent in Red Deer is pretty high.”

Cave says all orders of government need to step up in order to find creative solutions and help people who want to be helped.

Makinaw, who remains without a job for the time being, receives just shy of $1600 monthly on AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped).

He says having a home again has allowed him to reconnect with his culture by way of sharing circles at the Red Deer Native Friendship Society, and given him pause to think about his future.

“I see myself possibly having a new place, having a job, being in a relationship, and that's about it,” he says, thinking about five years from now.

“I now know there is hope for me in my future because I fight to keep my home, ask for help when needed, and the biggest word I can say now to people is No.”

The outreach society’s provincially-funded Rapid Rehousing program, which Makinaw went through, serves around 90 clients per year and is for moderate acuity clients. It provides targeted, in-home case management and wrap-around resources for those experiencing episodic homelessness.

Other housing and support programs in Red Deer are run by Safe Harbour Society, at the Buffalo Hotel by the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Red Deer Native Frienship Society, as well as by McMan Central for youth and the Bredin Centre for Learning.

The Central Alberta Women’s Outreach Society also operates the Shoestring Depot which provides affordable furniture and household items to those transitioning out of homelessness.

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