When Tyler Cuddahy moved to Vancouver from Alberta as a 16-year-old just over a decade ago, they weren’t just leaving behind a life in foster care and childhood abuse – they were searching for a community.
“I was looking for a place to be accepted,” Tyler recalls. “I was dealing with my identity, and struggling really hard with that. In Alberta I couldn’t be gay.
“But when I got to Vancouver I was, like, ‘Finally, I’m not alone.’ I felt at home and that I no longer had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t.”
Despite finding an accepting community, the move to Vancouver wasn’t easy for Tyler. Their search for identity and independence started off with living on the street, a precarious situation for anyone, but especially for a young person.
“When you’re homeless you’re always looking to a place where you can put your head down for the night. You’re always watching your back to make sure you’re not going to get jumped or robbed. If you have an addiction on top of that, you’re also trying to figure out where you’re going to get your next fix. It’s easy to give up on life.
“But I wanted something better.”
Tyler was eventually connected to housing for people living with HIV. But while having a home was a step up, the conditions were still less than ideal.
“I felt institutionalized,” they recall. “That wasn’t housing for me […] We were controlled. I’ve never known what jail was but to me that felt like jail.”
Two years later, a way out finally presented itself. Thanks to a unique program that helps support marginalized youth gain and maintain independent living, Tyler was on the move to their own place. The day they left supportive housing, they “felt free.”
It’s this time in their life that Tyler captures in their photo essay “(No) Exit,” which documents their time in supportive housing through to stepping out on their own. The essay is part of a photography exhibition, Living in the Best Place on Earth.
Living in The Best Place on Earth features photographs taken by 14 young people like Tyler who are living in the margins of Vancouver. Created over five years, the images they produced are embedded with personal biographies and trajectories, and illustrate what was at stake for them during a particular moment in their lives.
These are the voices and experiences often lost among the ongoing debate about livability and affordability in Vancouver.
The photo essay series was developed as part of the BC Centre on Substance Use’s At-Risk Youth Study, which explores the individual, social, economic, and environmental factors that influence the health and well-being of street-involved youth in Vancouver.
Tyler is one of the lucky ones. The program that supports their current housing situation isn’t widely available, so they do their part to mentor other young people in their community – whether it’s a couch to crash on or a place to just hang out.
“Not everybody gets to go from living on the streets to having their own apartment. I’m able to do better things now, so I can help those who are where I was at and help them get to where I am now.”
--Living in The Best Place on Earth runs from May 1-3 (11am - 9pm) @ 434 Columbia St.
In Dialogue, May 2 (6pm - 9pm), features an evening of discussion about ARYS and the overdose crisis, with artists in attendance. Free and open to the public.