Editor’s Note: The Journal continues Stories from the Street II, a six-part series focusing on Sarnia’s homeless crisis, from journalist Cathy Dobson and photographer Glenn Ogilvie. Please join us each day this week to read about the unique circumstances of the men and women living rough in Sarnia.
“If you don’t mind your Ps and Qs – and respect other people’s opinions and wishes – you can, honestly, get killed.”
– Mykila Gallerno, mother of six, age 29.
Mykila Gallerno had a baby eight months ago while she was living on the street.
“It was rough being pregnant,” she says. “But I had him in the hospital and they treated me real well.”
Mykila is addicted to crystal meth but insists she temporarily stopped using while she was pregnant. Expecting a baby gave her the motivation she needed to quit, she says.
“I stopped, not for myself, but for my unborn child. That made it easy.” She talks about her eight-month-old son Matthew while waiting in line for a meal at the Inn of the Good Shepherd soup kitchen.
Her thick hair has soft purple highlights and is knotted in the back. One finger on her right hand is bandaged. It’s an injury from a car door that slammed when she was nearly caught stealing change to buy drugs, she says. She speaks clearly but often repeats her words. Sometimes she rapidly repeats full sentences two or three times.
At age 29, Mykila has five other children besides the baby. They are aged 13, 11, 7, 6 and 3.
She doesn’t talk about the five oldest ones but says little Matthew was taken in by a good friend from high school who always wanted children.
“I gave my son to her because I knew she’d give him an amazing life,” Mykila explains. “I go there and see him every day. We say I’m Auntie Kila.”
Mykila, 29, was born and raised in Sarnia. She says she was living with a former boyfriend in a “beautiful” rent-to-own apartment but he became abusive.
“We broke up and I couldn’t afford the payments. Since then, I’ve been homeless. Sometimes I sleep on friends’ couches. Sometimes I sleep right here,” she says, motioning around the Inn’s parking lot.
She’s been homeless for two years and is banned from sleeping at The Good Shepherd’s Lodge because of drug use and assault charges.
“It’s not all bad on the street,” says Mykila. “We are really close, like family out here, in a way. But if you aren’t strong mentally and physically, you are going to get robbed.
“If you don’t mind your Ps and Qs – and respect other people’s opinions and wishes – you can, honestly, get killed.
“A very close friend of mine got killed actually. I don’t know what they did but they messed up and someone dealt with it.” She changes the subject.
“Having a tent makes it a lot better out here,” she says. “I had one and I took it to a friend’s house. Her house was ransacked while we came here for lunch and they robbed my tent.”
That was about two months ago.
She is hoping that somehow she’ll get another tent for the cold weather. But if she doesn’t, she’s got a backup plan.
“I always have a comforter and I cuddle underneath it,” she says. “If you’re that cold, you take hand sanitizer and you put it inside of a can. You use your lighter to set the hand sanitizer on fire and the flame keeps you warm at night.”
She learned that survival trick from a friend who was also sleeping rough.
Mykila says she badly wants to stop abusing drugs. But she has no support system; only willpower strengthened by the thought of seeing all her kids again.
“The fact that I have six children and I want to see them and have a relationship with them,” she says. “You can’t do that kind of stuff using drugs.”
Stories from the Street II continues Friday with Part 6.