Singer Maria Hawkins knows what it’s like to have no money and no paying gigs on the horizon, a situation many performers are finding themselves in during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To complicate matters further, Hawkins lives with a hereditary eye disease that would have left her blind without a cornea transplant, which involves a series of surgeries. The first eye was done four years ago, and she’s on a waiting list for the second.
In 2016, the year of the first surgery, Hawkins had drifted to New Brunswick to stay with a friend, hoping to find more gigs there. But then the call came that a cornea was available.
“I had been floating around,” she says. “I went out east because it seemed musicians were still surviving there. But I did not have a residence, and when I got the call saying we’ve got the cornea, I had to quickly get back to Ottawa and find a place to live, toute suite.”
Her credit card was maxed out, her belongings were in plastic tubs in her van and winter was coming. She was 59 years old.
“The feeling, oh my God, was panic, feeling that I can’t go through eye surgery without a stable place to live. I couldn’t live in a van,” recalls Hawkins.
A friend told her about PAL Ottawa, and she reached out for help. “They saved my life,” she said from the cozy home in a seniors co-op they helped her find and furnish. She moved in on a Friday; her first surgery took place three days later.