Vendor Profile: Vancouver vendor Sekani Dakelth talks about her experience with poverty and how she works through life’s obstacles
‘I'm grateful and happy’
“I’ve lived in poverty my whole life, I understand it very well—minus the time I was working at PACE Society, [a sex-worker driven organization that promotes safe working conditions through education and support]. They were awesome. I worked there for four years, and the job ended there because of funding, so I lost my job.
“So in December, I had a huge financial loss right before Christmas. I went about 45 days without any income. What I did make came from Megaphone sales, and I would ask some friends for help. I almost became homeless. I didn’t realize how at risk of homelessess I was until I got to that point: ‘Oh no, I might lose my housing.’ I’m so thankful for selling Hope in Shadows [calendar] and Megaphone. I was able to eat and buy the little things I needed.
“I was really grateful. It was a very humbling experience.
“Thank God welfare is there. At least it’s a small safety net, but even then it took them 16 days to finally get back to me. I was so stressed out, honestly. It was a very humbling but very stressful time in my life. I am actually grateful—after something is over, as hard as it was, I get to look back and learn something, and also, acknowledge my own strength, resilience, and fearlessness.
“Before working at PACE, I had no work experience for a long time because I was just becoming well. I have depression. I have PTSD. I don’t care anymore if people know because mental health is so stigmatized. I faced a lot of stigma because of it. I’d get fired because I couldn’t go to work and I’d tell them, 'I’m not well right now, I can’t come in, I need a day or two off.'
“I do want to work, believe me, and I worked at PACE for four years. It was the longest job I’ve ever had. I was becoming well, and they had a job opening—I didn’t even want to try and go for it. I was so long out of work, and I had no experience other than life experience related to outreach work. That was my first job, doing aboriginal-led outreach. I was working two days a week for a year and it was amazing. I want to work with PACE again any way I can.
“It was great because I knew most of the women out there already and they knew me. So whenever we would meet up, we’d have these conversations, and we would talk about more than just the light stuff—heavy stuff as well. They knew me and felt comfortable.
“Then I got more hours, funding got increased. From the second year of doing it, I was on for four days a week. Then I started running an aboriginal group at PACE, then they trained me up to be the office coordinator. I got another pay increase, more hours, and more responsibility. It was the longest job I’ve ever had. It was a huge learning experience. It was wonderful. PACE is a good organization because it’s peer run and peer led.
“But, I am still at risk of homelessness with my huge financial loss. What I get now does not cover anything close to my living costs.
“I have three cats. It got to a point where they were getting no food, and I almost had to make the decision to give them away. I spent all the money I got on welfare on their food, then the rest on my food. I just ate rice and beans for awhile, which is okay.
“I’ve lived that way before. I know I can live that way again. I had to keep going, I couldn’t let it impact me. I had to get up every day, sell Megaphone magazines, look for work, and go to the food bank. After my pets were fed, I just had to worry about myself.
“Right now, I feel very trapped because of the cycle of poverty. What I am getting now for assistance, what I make from sales, what I get from the food bank, I have not had enough money to turn my phone back on. I do have community voicemail, but it doesn’t help if jobs need their employees to have a working phone. It can be a vicious cycle.
“Thanks to Megaphone, I’m able to generate an income. It’s able to get me what I need. The whole experience was humbling and made me open my eyes very much to my current state, and that I need to work harder a little bit. I’m also upgrading my education because I didn’t get to complete high school.
“I’m grateful and happy.”
Sekani Dakelth is also known as Leslie, but she is in the middle of officially changing her name. You can find her selling Megaphone on Main Street and 14th Avenue, in front of the Tisol Pet Nutrition store. Photo by Jackie Dives. Interview by Stefania Seccia.