Finding hope in Castlegar when all seemed lost in so many other places
The warm morning sun gently kissed her awake. It always did. This was the sun that ushered in each day and ensured its golden light illuminated the day’s path.
Stretching lazily, Tara smiled, ready to greet the day in her white picket fence world. She slowly opened her eyes only to realize that the white picket fence she had been promised since being born had been replaced by the depressing walls of a tent and the towering, unscalable walls of homelessness.
There was no white picket fence, there was no Prince Charming, and there was no happily ever after. With a blink, Tara Moerke was rudely awakened with the harsh fact that she had plummeted from being the fairy tale princess to being one of the many homeless people in Canada. This wasn’t what had been promised her.
That was July 2010, which was heralded by several years of down-on-her-luck fiascos which ultimately concluded in her being homeless. She was only 37. Abuse for her and her four daughters at the hands of her partner, the never-ending, rigid red tape of bureaucracy and the cloying and troubling trappings of a legal system grossly encumbered by rules and unadorned by grace, good will and common sense had robbed her of her now impossible childhood dream and a home in which to raise her four daughters.
“He (her partner) had been sent to jail, and by spring break I was facing eviction,” Tara explained.
Not knowing what else to do, Tara, who then lived in Maple Ridge, farmed her children out to various friends and relatives until she could figure out how to once again provide a home for her family.
“I became a woman in need and there was no one there to help me. The Ministry of Families and Children weren’t very helpful and they treated me like I was the criminal,” said Tara.
“So I went up to Hope and lived in a tent for about three months and got a couple of part-time jobs.” Those jobs, she hoped, would ultimately reunite her with her children. It did for a short while, but for various reasons, her stay with the children “didn’t work out” and she found herself once again in Maple Ridge.
Spiritually, emotionally and financially bankrupt, Tara fought to hold her family together, but the stigma of being an abused woman haunted her as she tried to right her life.
And then, a small glimmer of hope brightened Tara’s day — she had finally found a good paying job. The golden key to happiness was within her reach. Or so she thought.
“In 2007 I ended back up in Maple Ridge and got myself some good work with SYSCO,” Tara said with a smile, but that smile quickly turned to a frown as she shared what happened next.
“The Ministry ended up costing me that job. I was on a three-week training course with them and the Ministry wanted me to check in every Friday with them. I couldn’t do that, and it was only for three weeks. I was needed there to train,” she explained.
According to Tara, the Ministry wasn’t very sympathetic to her plight and unwilling to accommodate insisted she tell her employer about her weekly obligation to the Ministry.
“I ended up having to tell the manager and shortly thereafter she told me we weren’t a good fit,” Tara said with a sigh.
Tara is convinced that the Ministry’s unbending stance coupled with the stigma of abuse and the unwillingness, or inability, of her manager to face the specter of abuse and all it entailed was too much for her boss, causing her to lose her job.
“All I wanted to do was get back on my feet, get my children and become a strong member of society,” she added.
Which brought her to July, 2010. She was struggling, working as a gas station attendant and had her own housekeeping service “on the side.” But she did have a home for her children. That was to soon change.
“I read in a newspaper that he (her ex-boyfriend) had been released. I wasn’t even informed! He had threatened my life and the children’s’ life prior.”
So Tara did what she knew best to do. She ran.
“I packed up everything, put it in storage and spent the summer in a tent again.” Once again, her children were safely tucked away at relatives and friends.”
By September, Tara had arranged for the family to live together in Chilliwack, but that was to be short-lived.
“We lived there until December and then I couldn’t handle it anymore. The kids saw him (driving by one day) and that was it for me.”
Once again, Tara decided to flee, but this time she knew where she was going and she was taking her girls with her.
“I met a woman from Castlegar. Our mothers are friends. She said that Castlegar is a beautiful place. That it’s quiet and that me and my kids would be safe. That it’s far enough away. She told me there are jobs, but you just have to be patient and get yourself known.”
So Tara decided that maybe, just maybe, Castlegar would offer her the haven she had been seeking for years.
“She brought me to meet Debbie (McIntosh). We came with the clothes on our backs,” she said.
Tara wasn’t disappointed. Before she knew it, BC Hydro had sponsored her and her family and she and her girls had a home in which to live.
“They were so generous and they totally helped me get set up. We have everything we need and the community has been so good to us. Castlegar is absolutely where I want to be. People care about each other and they rally and help and don’t make you feel like you’re a loser or a skid.”
The road ahead, Tara knows, is long and likely littered with detours, but she also knows that despite today’s circumstances, she will make it. When she does, she intends on paying society back.
“It’s been a struggle, but I will get there and once I get there I want to help. Especially the children. Especially the children.”
‘Everybody Has a Story’ is a new, monthly feature in the Castlegar News. If you have a story you would like to tell, or if you know of someone with a story, please contact Karen Haviland at firstname.lastname@example.org.