Sometimes it takes something shocking to make us want to turn our lives around.
“It was the day of my daughter’s fifth birthday party. I was looking after my children at their house, and waiting for their mother to return,” Sydney said. “Then the police officers showed up.”
Sydney learned that the mother of his children had died that morning. Though the cause of death wasn’t confirmed, Sydney believes she may have accidentally overdosed on drugs and alcohol.
“Like me, she had problems with substance abuse,” Sydney said. “It was a wake-up call for me. I thought about my children growing up without a mother, and I cried. I decided I needed to quit drinking, so I could be there for them; I needed to be strong for my children.”
Sydney had been drinking since he was 14 years old. He moved to Winnipeg with his mother and brother from a fly-in reserve in God’s Lake Narrows when he was 10.
“After 14 years of marriage, my mother gathered up the courage to leave my abusive father,” Sydney said. “We moved around a lot. She was always trying to make sure he couldn’t find us.”
Sydney attended a junior high school where there weren’t many other Indigenous people.
“It was a culture shock,” Sydney said. “I started hanging around the wrong people, drinking all the time, and getting kicked out of class.”
While he was under the influence, Sydney would steal.
“I was in and out of the Remand Centre more times than I could count,” said Sydney.
He met a young woman, and they had two children together.
“Even though I was a father, it didn’t slow down my drinking,” Sydney said. “It got to a point where my addictions were more important than my family life. She eventually grew tired of it and kicked me out.”
Sydney was 25 years old, homeless, and addicted to alcohol.
“I’d wake up, go and drink, then find my next drink,” Sydney said. “For three years, that was my life.”
Then one morning, after a solid month of binging, Sydney made a life-changing decision.
“I woke up and said to myself, ‘This is getting me nowhere. I don’t want to end up like her…I’m going to quit drinking.’”
On February 12, 2016, Sydney took his last drink, and six days later, he gave up smoking.
And then something else happened to change his life. Sydney had heard about EAGLE Urban Transition Centre, a United Way Winnipeg agency partner, where he could go to access computers.
“I went there to use the internet, check emails and Facebook,” Sydney said. “I didn’t know much about EAGLE Urban. But then I overheard someone talking about how they can help people find housing, and so I asked about it.”
Sydney then talked to a youth housing transition counsellor and explained his situation. The counsellor asked Sydney if he wanted to get off the street.
“I’d never asked for help before, but I said yes, I wanted off the street,” Sydney said. “I was accepted in a transitional housing program for youth 18-30, and I was no longer homeless.”
The staff at EAGLE Urban encouraged Sydney to apply for a youth internship.
“I was reluctant since I didn’t have any education or experience,” Sydney said. “But I got the job, providing youth housing transition support, just like I had received.”
Sydney was also encouraged to get his GED.
“I got a book, studied, and passed the exam,” said Sydney. “I dedicated it to my mom since I love her so much. What a strong and independent woman she is.”
Once Sydney received his diploma, he was offered a job at EAGLE Urban as a Community Transition Counsellor.
“It’s been life-changing; I’m so grateful to EAGLE Urban and to United Way Winnipeg,” Sydney said.
Sydney wants to be a voice for all youth.
“There was this guy who came in (to EAGLE Urban), and he was in the same shoes I was in two years ago. I’m so happy to be able to give back, and to show people who are in the same position I was in that there’s hope.”
Sydney feels that every day he is getting closer to the life he wants for himself and his children. It’s been over three years since he quit drinking and smoking.
“My spirit name is Strong Wolf. I’ve fought hard for this life I want, and while I’m really proud of everything I’ve accomplished, I became the person I am today because I wasn’t too proud to ask for help,” Sydney said. “I’m so grateful to EAGLE Urban and United Way Winnipeg donors.”
Today, Sydney has a job, a vehicle, and this September, he’s attending university so he can pursue his Bachelor of Social Work. Despite all he has accomplished, Sydney says there’s more to be done.
“My journey’s far from over,” Sydney said. “I’ve always liked the expression, ‘Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.’”