“If we can live with a little less and give a lot more, we would solve so many issues.”
Arlene Smith, who has been in the Shuswap since 2008, is living in her car. She makes this remark about giving, on the heels of recounting how generous and kind people have been to her and what a difference it’s made.
In 2017, she was living in subsidized housing because of mental health issues she was undergoing. Then came complaints about her mental health and behaviours, so she was asked to leave, she explains, making note of the irony.
“I know everybody was doing what they needed to do,” she adds.
She ended up camping at Skimikin Lake, where, on her first night, her neighbours there checked on her and gave her food and a heater. The kindness continued – people regularly left food for her, one man gave her a fresh trout.
Smith tries to give in return, a practice she says has been instrumental in her healing.
“When I’m stuck in myself I don’t see the opportunities out there. To help somebody else changes my whole way of thinking.”
One day she found herself smoking medical marijuana at 4 a.m.
“I thought ‘what am I doing? I want to turn my life over to Jesus,” she says, noting she was also on stronger drugs for her mental illness. “The medication I was on made me gain so much weight, I craved carbohydrates and sugar, and I was over-medicated and wrongly prescribed. I said, I don’t want to live this way.”
She changed her diet and consequently lost 75 pounds.
“I know a lot of my healing was change of diet, a change of attitude, and gratitude. Instead of me being so self centred, I started thinking about others.”
Smith is also an accomplished musician.
“Using prayer, meditation – music is what keeps my soul alive.”
Busking helps a little financially. On Sunday she busks for the Lord, suggesting people give their money to someone else who needs it.
She thinks of how much could be raised for those in need if everyone gave a dollar or so every couple of months.
Smith has become something of an expert on living in a car, although recently she received help so she was able to stay in a motel for a while. Like so many people, finding an affordable place to live has been impossible.
“Everybody could end up in my circumstances; they’re one mortgage payment or one illness away.”
Finding a safe place to park is the biggest problem, she says, and having to keep moving all the time uses up precious gas. Not to mention living in a car is, in terms of privacy, like living in a fishbowl.
One of the biggest problems from having no address means finding employment or registering for training becomes very difficult.
But, she doesn’t give up. She sees miracles all around.
“Each life is a miracle and each day is a gift. As they say, yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery and today is a gift – that’s why they call it the present.”