“I was so happy to hear that it was finally happening – we need it,” says Sheila, reflecting on the announcement that the Dr. Peter Centre would be extending its Day Health Program to seven days a week.
Sheila knows firsthand the difference that seven-day service can make. For five years, Sheila received care 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Dr. Peter Centre’s live-in Residence. “It was my home. I was on my deathbed when I came in, but they got me better.” Sheila eventually became well enough to live on her own, but with the help of the Day Health Program for regular nursing, counselling and meals – not to mention the karaoke and bingo.
For Sheila, the Centre has been a source of stability – something which has been elusive in her history.
Like more than 55% of the women in the Dr. Peter Centre’s Day Health Program, Sheila is of Aboriginal ancestry. She was born in Smithers, BC and belongs to the Carrier Nation. She spent her early years in an orphanage, but was adopted when she was four years old. “They were good parents. I loved my stepfather... but he died of cancer when I was eight. After that, I got lost within myself and my own spirit world.”
Sheila’s adoptive mother struggled as a single parent. Sheila was sent back to the orphanage and then to a series of group homes. “I had a lot of struggles in the group homes – I was usually the only one of Native origin. I got picked on and beat up.”
Sheila’s struggles led her to the Downtown Eastside where she contracted HIV through intravenous drug use in 1995. Sheila was without a strong support network and her health became very bad. “The people I was with would give me crack, thinking that would help me deal with my HIV. I got very sick.”
After a stay at St. Paul’s Hospital, Sheila moved into the Residence in 2003. “I learned how to live independently in the Residence. I learned how to understand my HIV and how bad it would get if I didn’t take care of myself.”
Sheila counts herself as one of the lucky ones. “I’ve watched a lot of people pass on to the spirit world during my time at the Centre. I was one of the ones that got better though. Now I live better than I ever did before.”
Sheila passed away in 2012.