photos: Photo by Ian Charleson and Joshua James Dominic / courtesy of Rose Henry.

Rose Henry speaks truth to power

"We need to make room for those who have had the most experience [with homelessness and poverty] to be included on the advisory council, to be included on the board of directors, and to be able to build their own community."

Get on your megaphone

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“About seven years ago, I became homeless. Our landlord had sold the house that we were renting. And it was at a time when Victoria had a zero vacancy rate. We were on a limited income. My partner is a custodian. And I was selling the Street Newz [the now-defunct street newspaper that preceded Megaphone] and doing odds and ends jobs.

“If we wanted to stay off of the welfare list, that meant we were going to either have to move into community housing or we were going to have to live in our car. Our friends were building community housing at the time, but there were no vacancies. We ended up sleeping in my car
in one of the coldest winters on the Island’s history. Two adults sleeping in the back of a little Toyota Corolla.

“But we had jobs. We’re the working poor. There are many people like us, people who happen to be working 
at the same time that the food bank’s open, or we happen to not have any children so we’re not eligible to go to 
the food bank, or we’re working night shifts. So when the food bank’s [and other services are] open, we’re sleeping.

“We identified this as a key factor: if we’re going to survive and keep doing the labour jobs that the rest of society doesn’t want to do, we have to support each other and we have to figure out how to do this.

“Living in my car wasn’t my first round of homelessness. In my 20s, I had been left in a dumpster for dead. I survived that. In 2008, I joined a group of people that walked from Victoria to Ottawa to raise awareness of the missing and murdered women. We commemorate that on Valentine’s Day each year.

“I don’t live on reserve because there’s no housing. And a lot of the people, a lot of my family that live on the reserve, they don’t have running water. So, here we are: Idle No More.

“Idle No More is one movement I 
have totally supported because that movement represents people who don’t have housing, who don’t have running water, who don’t have access to education. As an aboriginal person, I faced a huge barrier to continuing to get my university degree because I don’t live on reserve.

“In the mid-1990s, I returned to school to get my Grade 12. I put my nose to the grindstone. After I finished, I’d fallen in love with writing again.

“Over the years, I have been doing a lot of public speaking about poverty and racism and sexism. I’m one of those types of people who are not afraid to talk about the "-isms" and the "-ides." Let’s talk about homicide and suicide and genocide because these are the things that I’ve had to work through.

“I’ve had this saying that nothing shall be said about us without us. For a long time, I’ve echoed that saying all over the world because we can’t talk about people who are living in poverty or are homeless unless we have gone through the experience ourselves.

“We need to make room for those who have had the most experience to be included on the advisory council, to be included on the board of directors, and to be able to build their own community, whether they’re building housing for people who are living in poverty, whether they’re writing the story.

“Megaphone is bridging a gap that 
had been existing between the two
cities. Now we can share our stories.
And people might understand that homelessness in Victoria is a reflection to the homeless population in Vancouver.

“For me, selling Megaphone, Street Newz, and Hope in Shadows has been a lifesaver. It’s saved me from ending up in the food banks and it’s saved me from other despair. And it’s given me a venue to share my story, my knowledge, what little wisdom I do have.

“I believe in Hope in Shadows, because I had a lot of shadows. And I had a tiny glimmer of hope that I grabbed onto.”

Rose sells Megaphone at the intersection of Government and Bastion streets in downtown Victoria.

Get on your megaphone

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