In this series, we share stories from Art Jam participants. Art Jam - a volunteer-run program of the Salt Spring Arts Council - provides a safe, welcoming space for members of our marginalized community, where they can be defined as creators and artists, rather than by the challenges they regularly face. By celebrating their unique creative accomplishments and reinforcing the value of their work through public exhibitions we promote positive self-identities and help build self-esteem.
My name is Danene and I just turned 50. When I first arrived on Salt Spring I was parking in front of the Local and some woman yelled, "your kind of people can't park here.” I asked her what kind of people she thought I was and she simply replied with "you know." Back then I was driving a 1986 Toyota van that had stickers all over it. I told her that “you can't make that assumption because you know nothing about me.” At that time the homeless people mostly hung out in Centennial Park. They were pushed out of there to Mouat’s park, and then out of there as well. They just try to keep moving us on.
I would like people to know that I am not one of "those people." We are not "those people." I would like people not to judge us. What they see on the outside is not necessarily what is on the inside. I have had a car and a 6-bedroom house with a pool, and lost all of it.
Five years ago I moved to Salt Spring from Nanaimo. I have a daughter who is 29 and a son who is 23. Recently, I became a grandmother to a beautiful girl named Makena who weighed over 8 pounds. She's my sons' child, but really I had hoped it would be my daughter who had a baby first. Nevertheless, I'm so excited to be a grandma.
At 19 years of age I lost my best friend and my boyfriend in a car accident that happened right in front of my eyes. His mother kind of adopted me and was a good mom to me. My kids call them grandma and papa and they love them both. She has been through so much with me, more than my own mother. I'm kind of lucky that way, I adopted myself a good mom. She is an amazing person.
Over the years I have fostered lots of kids out of my own pocket, at least 30 of them. I took my first kid in when my daughter was in grade 5. My son's friends' mom had been in a bad car accident before the boys were born. She had a two-bedroom house and the boys lived upstairs and she lived downstairs. It means that a kindergarten kid and one in grade 5 were running the upstairs of the house, and it was bad. Eventually I got to know them and would invite them over for dinner. The youngest one pretty much lived with us. During the years that my kids were in school, and I had the house with the pool, there were at least 5 other children living with us at the time. I'm proud of myself for helping others the way I was helped.
Right now I live in a house with 9 other people. It's what I can afford on the island and it was the only place I could find where I could live with my income. I have been cleaning hoarder’s houses, having done 8 homes already. I love cleaning these kinds of places, that's why I do it. My name is getting around, so I am hoping to get more work. I can't work full time as I have a panic/anxiety disorder and have been on medication for almost 20 years now. There was a point where I couldn’t leave Nanaimo city limits for 10 years. I've come a long way since then.
Like most people, I have personal goals. One of them is to find out about my real family. I recently found out that my dad of fifty years was not my real dad, and that my whole family knew this. My real dad died eight years ago; he never knew about me. He went on to have his own family, with two children that were born about 12 years after I was. I learned that I had a brother and sister. They didn't know about me either. My brother and I met, but my sister hasn't reached out to me yet. I feel like I never had the opportunity to have closure with my read dad. I want to learn about his family because they are part of me and there isn't a lot of family left. I have papers that will allow me to get information about my birth father but it costs $50.00, and I don't have that spare kind of cash to spare, well not yet anyways.
My other goal is to be stable. Stable means that I don't have to worry every day about food or having a roof over my head. I get a monthly disability cheque which covers my expenses, but it's not quite enough. A reliable vehicle would be really great. I do have a vehicle that was given to me, but there are all the expenses that go with having a car like insurance, repairs, gas, etc. Having a home of my own would be wonderful. I would love a tiny home. Tiny homes are all we need. We don't need a lot of land. Having a home means you can have a shower when you need one and being able to cook meals for yourself.
The hardest thing for me is being alone, and that is why I come to Art Jam. I've been coming for almost 4 years now. I get everything here, affection and community. They are my family. When I leave here I miss them. When I'm gone I worry about how they all are. They are my adopted family. I kind of feel like everyone's mom. I have to take care of them and make sure they are all right. Learn more about Art Jam and Artists from the Fringe.