Face to Face with Stigma
Kay Martin

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Kay Martin, Peer Support Worker with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and co-lead on the Face-to-Face with Stigma program breaking down stigma in institutions of power, sits down to talk to us about her story and what needs to change in our community to better support those battling addiction and homelessness.

Participant Reflections

Face to Face with Stigma
Kay Martin

Each workshop produces a creative participant reflection – a personal take away from the story they just heard – that is voluntarily shared with the wider community.
We believe that personal narratives have the power to connect individuals across socioeconomic boundaries, and that the rich creative ability of our community is the most effective tool we can wield against the stigma that prevents necessary social change.

Featured Artist

Face to Face with Stigma
Kay Martin

Meg Cooke

After the humbling experience of hearing her story, I overheard Kay reference a quote from Dinos Christianopoulos: “They buried us, but they didn't know we were seeds.” To me, this quote encapsulates Kay’s story perfectly. From seemingly total darkness springs forth vibrant beauty and potential. Kay demonstrates the incredible possibilities of growth and transformation, and offers an important reminder of the power of compassionate care through it all.

Featured Student

Face to Face with Stigma
Kay Martin


Katie Duerksen

Geography Student at the University of Victoria

We made our “storyboxes” after a discussion as a group, individually expressing our thoughts as we participated in the Existence Project workshop. All of us were able to reflect through sharing a thought, message or drawing. My storybox was a perpetuating thought that lingered with me after listening to the speaker, Kay’s personal story. My storybox mentions the need for someone to help guide us through our own personal growth. In Kay’s story she mentioned a few of these individuals who were able to inspire her to recover from a series of addictions, and enabled her own personal growth to transform her in the outgoing and well-spoken community leader she is today. Personally, I have not faced the same challenges as the speaker, or dealt with drug addiction and substance abuse. However, I can relate to the need of guidance, and the need of leadership in times of my own confusion or misunderstanding. I believe that additional support of others in the community will allow us to feel belonging, motivation, and will promote a more positive experience for each of us in life.

Participating in the Existence Project workshop has affected my perspective of relating to marginalized communities in general. I knew in advance that there is an ongoing stigma of those experiencing homelessness and addiction. There has been a concept of an “us” and “them” mentality, in which the larger demographic groups are distanced from the marginalized. As I spoke with and heard stories from the participants in the workshop, I learned of the different difficulties and challenges they had gone through in their lives. Although I may not have been able to directly relate to their some of their struggles, I could understand the ongoing themes they mentioned to me. Particularly, community, connection, courage and inspiration were ongoing themes that were mentioned in my discussion group. These themes spoke to me, as I find them to be important in aspects in my daily life as a student.

I am currently a student in my last year of Geography at the University of Victoria. In the geographic field are the studies of human geography and social geography. Human and social geography can encompass the topics of homelessness, social issues and political dynamics, poverty, belonging and place, food insecurity, and the demographics of people within an area. Because these topics are touched on within the dialogue in the workshop, I can relate them to my studies, and could research them further for deeper meaning. My education has taught me of the ongoing issues of job insecurity, housing instability, and the social marginalization of homeless peoples.

I believe that speaking with those who are directly affected by these challenges can be a more impactful way of learning than researching the types of affected people remotely through academic studies. The workshop also allowed me to extend connections to people in our community I may otherwise never meet. Finally, the workshop also allows me to discuss personal life stories with interesting people who have a plethora of alternate knowledge to share and contribute.

Community Ally

Face to Face with Stigma
Kay Martin


Caley Byrne - BC Public Sector

I work leading diversity and inclusion initiatives in my public sector human resources branch, and I attempt to complete this work with humility, curiosity, respect and an open heart at all times. I believe deeply in a diverse, respectful, kind, inclusive and safe environment for all.

Attending the Existence Project community workshop last week was an incredible experience. I was a bit nervous going in – would I, a public service employee and person who walks through life with an incredible amount of privilege – be welcome? Be of value? But upon leaving Anawim House just a few hours later, I felt my cells vibrating on a level I hadn’t felt in a long time. A vibration of connection, of oneness, of understanding. It was a good feeling.

Kay was such a courageous and poised speaker. She relayed the depths of her lifelong trauma with a calm, strong, self-assured voice that only a truly resilient soul could embody. Her story – of childhood abuse, drug use, incarceration and deep loneliness – brought us all closer to some of the dark realities that can be lurking behind the next corner, for any of us or our loved ones. But her story ended with such a positive transformation; Kay is using her lived experience to create meaningful and lasting change. Stories do this to us – they connect us, they transform us, they make us look and see and understand where many would just find it easier to turn away and forget.

In the workshop, we heard a lot about “mattering” – how everyone matters and everyone has gifts to share with the community. There was also a deep theme of resilience running throughout the story and the resulting dialogue. To this end, I was inspired by a fellow workshop attendee (who talked about how trauma that happens to young children can affect them for the rest of their lives) to create a story box art piece of a tree growing from glowing purple soil. The idea being, the soil that nurtures us needs to be safe, positive, healthy and strong in order for us to grow up to be the same.

Another theme that resonated deeply with me was one of culture shift. Kay as well as our small discussion group talked about seeing past the external qualities of a person (which we so often have biases about). Our dialogue group had an incredible talk about shifting the culture of our communities – and how this work can be long, and heavy, and hard, like shifting a glacier from its existing path.

I came away that afternoon with so many thoughts. One practical thing I am committing to doing, going forward, is continuing to work from a story-based perspective (and expanding this practice!). I can see this being truly valuable in the work I do – it is when we connect on a personal level and hear one another’s stories and experiences that we can empathize and understand.

My deep gratitude to Marko and all the folks who work to support the Existence Project, Kay for her courage, and my fellow workshop participants for their open hearts and minds.