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My Housing Story

Updated: May 15

November 1, 2021

My name is Charlene Barney and I am a First Nations woman from Lillooet, BC. I have worked for 17 years at an agency that supports children and youth in Indigenous care. I love my job, visiting friends, going to the movies and hockey games. I also love to knit!

I moved to Victoria 31 years ago from Kamloops. I have never looked back. I rely on public transportation for my freedom and quality of life. My home must be close to a covered bus stop! Before moving to Victoria, I did not have freedom that most people enjoy.

Many of us have experienced great isolation and segregation because of our diverse abilities. And some of us even more because we are Indigenous. I was part of the 60’s scoop. Which means I was taken from my family when I was a baby. I grew up in a group home with 30 other children. It never felt like home. Back then there was no accessibility. I didn’t even have a wheelchair. They tried to get me walking but it just hurt too much.

There wasn’t proper education either. I didn’t learn much in the special education class they sent me to. So, I went back to school and upgraded my adult basic education. This helped build my confidence and strength to carry on and be who I wanted to be instead of having government telling me what to do.

Since being an adult, things have gone better because I have a voice and can speak up for what is right and wrong for me. I just can’t stand how people with disabilities are treated, talked down to, and belittled.

Today, I am a self-advocate leader and part of the BC Self Advocacy Movement. We are people with diverse abilities who have been labelled as having a developmental disability speaking up for our rights. We are working together to bring awareness to our communities about the issues we face, like being able to choose where we live and who we live with.

My best housing experience include:

· The place that felt like a real home the most, was where the caregiver and their family all lived in the same house with us

· Now I live in an apartment with a roommate who also needs physical support from staff. It’s called semi-independent living. But the fact that I can make my own choices about what I do and where I go means I have the independence I need to be free.

· Having independence and making my own choices is what makes where I live a real home to me.

· Having a home that is accessible for my power wheelchair essential. Being able to get around and go in and out of my house independently means a lot.

· Without those freedoms it just isn’t a real home.

My advice for people building housing:

· Meet with people get to know their stories, who they are and what they need and like before you start building housing.

· People, like me, can tell if a home has been built with that kind of respect and care.

· Think about how your family would feel if they didn’t get to choose where they live.

· Accessible means accessible space for me as a wheelchair user, including an overhead lift, AND including space for the staff I need to support my independence.

· Many of us have lived in poverty because of having a disability.

· We are only provided with $375/month for rent. Try finding somewhere to live with that.

Eventually I would like to move back to my homeland in Lillooet to be close to my family. I hope I can find a home that is accessible and affordable, and where I can be free like most of you get to be.

Being able to talk to you all today and share my story is helpful. Thank-you for understanding and working with us. It means a lot when people have heart and listen to our physical needs as well as our abilities. Thank you for continuing to put yourself in our shoes and ask individuals like myself, “Are you comfortable? Is there anything else we need to do?”

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