photos: Photo by Stefania Seccia

With a smile on her face

Suzanne Kilroy has worked tirelessly for 10 years to successfully turn her life around

Get on your megaphone

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Ten years ago, Suzanne Kilroy walked into the Megaphone office wanting to become a vendor, looking to make a change in her life.

“I was 80 pounds,” she says. “For the last 10 years, I’ve been working with Megaphone.

“One of the best things (Megaphone executive director) Sean Condon ever did was reach his hand across the desk and say, ‘Welcome aboard.’ I will never forget that. It was a little closet of an office on Hastings, but when they wrote my story it was awesome because I got to see some parts about my life. I got to see a picture I didn’t like, and I was really thin. I was working my way from 80 lbs. to a healthier life.”

Originally from Kelowna, Suzanne is the youngest of 14 children. She grew up in a lot of places, she notes, went to reservation school for six years from age eight to 15, and went to many other public schools.

“I’m of Japanese descent on my dad’s side and my mom’s native,” she says, noting how difficult it was at reservation school. “So when you’re a half-breed, you get picked on from other Indians. So that was hard.

“Another thing is we were really poor and food was a big thing. For us to eat, we had to catch our food. We had to hunt and the little bit of money we got every month from the bank—that didn’t go very far.”

Suzanne started her battle with addiction at the age of nine when she started drinking alcohol. But she finished school, took some college courses and worked in palliative care, did support work, and had a stint with Revenue Canada. When she lived in Toronto, she was a child apprehension worker.

But when her partner at the time killed himself, she fell into a slew of violent relationships.

Suzanne has lived in the Downtown Eastside for 30 years. She was a sex trade worker and drug addict. “I had big abrasions on my skin, on my face and body, from heroin picking, and I don’t today,” she says.

Suzanne used to walk from Gastown all the way to Clarke and Venables, in high heels and miniskirts—through rain or snow. One time it was snowing heavily, and she had gotten halfway between the two points in open-toe shoes. She sat in a corner, but within an hour and a half the snow was a foot deep and she was freezing.

“I walked around a little path and made a patch I could walk around, but my toes were so cold. My feet hurt. My fingers hurt. And I just said, ‘God, help me please.’ I couldn’t even finish the word, ‘please,’ and this truck comes around the corner with weird interior lights. Beautiful light," she says. The driver handed her three $20 bills and by the time she looked up again, he had disappeared.

Ten years ago, “when I figured I was done, I was done,” she says. Suzanne attended support groups on Thursday nights, a healing circle. She started to volunteer at WISH Drop-in Centre, and for PACE Society. She returned to cutting hair, and continues to help out at Oppenheimer Park and did so for a time at a mental health facility in Kitsilano. She co-founded Aboriginal Health and Safety Project for women in the sex trade.

“I think back about where I was and I wouldn’t change anything back,” she says. “I get to look around and smile. And I got stickers on my phone, stickers in my books. I get to buy things with my sales from Megaphone. I got toe socks. They’re my favourite socks.

“And these are the kind of things I have to get myself through life with.”

Suzanne sells Megaphone in downtown Vancouver.

Get on your megaphone

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  • Kerry Porth
    commented 2016-04-21 10:16:03 -0700
    Awesome to see Suzanne’s story and her beautiful smile featured in Megaphone. She used to hang out with us at PACE when I worked there and she always made my day a little better. You’re one of the kindest and sweetest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. xoxo
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