Sheila's Story

Age: 61

HIV positive since 1999… in her 15th year.

Born in Guyana

Sheila was diagnosed HIV positive 15 years ago.  Her husband was also HIV positive.  He passed away 3 years ago of a heart attack. That’s when:

  • She suffered a breakdown
  • She stopped taking her meds

“When you are in a devastating situation, nothing makes sense.  Nothing makes sense when you are in a bad place,” says Sheila.

Having hit rock bottom, she connected with Fife House because she needed housing.  “That’s when I met Kevin, a Homeless Outreach Program Coordinator at Fife House,” says Sheila, “he was my life saver.”

However even on a medical emergency leave, it took years to get housing. During that time her boss (she was still working), realized she had become homeless and was sleeping in a shelter at night and then going to work during the day.

“I had become homeless,” Sheila says.

Her boss gave Sheila a place to live, which ended up lasting years. Nobody at work knew Sheila’s boss was helping her this way. Sheila was grateful and repaid her boss by helping around the house and making meals.  “My boss was amazing. It was a win – win for my boss (and her family),” said Sheila, “we helped each other. They became my second family. I still check on her kids.”

“When I moved in with my boss I put all of my stuff into storage but I could not afford to keep the rental of $300/month.  I lost everything” says Sheila.

Nobody in Sheila’s family knows she is HIV positive… they didn't know of her husband either. She is worried about the stigma and their reaction, especially considering her age and culture.  Sheila has an adult daughter and someday she hopes to tell her daughter.

While living with her boss she retired. She wanted to protect her health and she had heard horror stories of people who retired at 65 and then died – she didn't want this.

Becoming emotional, Sheila says, “I was even showing signs of suicide.  I remember chatting with a nurse [at Sherbourne Health] and she immediately:

  • Took me to the hospital
  • Stayed with me while I was seen
  • Called me after to see how I was doing.”

“I realized at that time I had to get better for my daughter. If it wasn't for me she would not have anyone left.  "Her dad had died,” emotionally, Sheila continues. “I know more than ever now that you must say “I Love You.” to the people you love.”

Sheila now fills her time taking care of herself, other residents and giving back to her community by volunteering.

Sheila was grateful that 2 months after she retired she received a call from Kevin at Fife House.  He had an apartment for her.

“I saw the apartment and fell in love with it.  I’ve now lived there for 1.5 years, Sheila says,  “At first it was ‘Interesting’ because most of the people are gay.”  Sheila did not know many gay people before she moved in.  “Just learning their terminology was a challenge,” she says of her new friends with a laugh, “I love their company… and the Fife House staff are good.”

“When I moved into the apartment I only had a bed (provided by Fife House) and that was all.  Kevin came to visit me one day and said “You have to get dishes” so I went to Canadian Tire and stocked up.” Says Sheila. 

When her new friends in the building found out she didn't have chairs or any other furniture they took care of her. Sheila says with admiration, “They had so little but began giving me things. They found me a dining room set, lamps, tables and artwork. My former boss and friend gave me a sofa.”

Tearing up, Sheila says, “Now I have a beautiful apartment. These guys really take care of me. We do a lot together now.  We go bowling, movies and hang out and take care of the community garden on the roof. They tell me this never happened before I came here.”

Now Sheila is giving back to her community in other ways also.  Sheila volunteers with Meals on Wheels.  “At first I found doing it I was so tiring mentally.  It was difficult going into other people’s homes and seeing how people live.  I said to myself ‘OMG, people live this way?’.  It makes me see how thankful I am for my apartment, new friends and support.”

Talking more about her volunteering at Meals on Wheels, Sheila says, “I don’t just drop the meal off… I always have a conversation. I might be the only person they see for a while.

“I get emotional – I am so grateful for what I have.  Anything I can do to help someone else… I do.” Sheila says as she gently tears up.

“I also volunteer Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Fife House Breakfast Club. This is very rewarding.” The objective of ‘The Breakfast Club’ is to provide clients an opportunity to get out and socialize, get to know and chat with each other twice a week while enjoying a coffee and something to eat.

“My health is doing a lot better – I am taking my med’s. Life goes on.”

“I really appreciate Fife House for their service and the good work they are doing for me and other people.”

“I would always be there for people – just like my mother.  This works for the guys who live in the apartment building I live in; I am there for them and they are there for me.”  Another example of how Sheila gives back is that one of the other residents likes when she makes rice & peas… “So I make if for him and give him a big pot.”

“I don't have money – but you don’t need money to show gratitude and that you care, Sheila says. “The guys appreciate the things I do – and I make sure I show appreciation for the things they do for me.

Sheila reflects, “I feel safe with the guys in my building. After I moved in some of them came to me and gave me their phone numbers. They told me if I ever needed help to call. Their caring means so much to me.  We look after each other.  If there is something on sale at the store we tell each other. One resident is really good at watching the flyers and he shares this… this is the only way he shops.  Now we shop together when we can.

I really feel comfortable at Fife House.

Sheila closes the interview saying, “Fife House staff is great. It’s good to know they are there.  A few times I’ve had to go to get staff help.  They respect you – especially if you respect them.  I know I can talk to them when I need – and they are open to fresh ideas.”