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Doreen is 49 years old. She volunteers at the SHARE Food Bank. She was widowed at 36 and raised her daughter on her own.

Doreen has also lived on the streets and woods of the Tri-Cities.

Doreen’s story of meeting her husband at 15, marrying him by the time she was 21 and having a daughter three years later is not an unusual story – this may describe many of our relationships and lives.

Doreen’s life got derailed when her husband died of a massive heart attack making her a single parent of a 12 year old in the early 90s. Doreen had little work experience and the life insurance money and widow’s pension she started receiving didn’t go very far. Doreen went on welfare for a bit which helped her go back to school and get a job for a bottle water company. During this time she had started a new relationship that was, in hindsight, not healthy. Her boyfriend introduced her to drugs and she eventually quit her job. The relationship continued to deteriorate and eventually ended but the drug use didn’t.

In 2003 Doreen’s daughter inherited $50,000 from a family member permitting Doreen and her daughter to purchase a mobile home and renovate it to suit their needs. Doreen’s daughter had also discovered drugs as a young teenager and between the two of them the $50 grand was gone in no time.  Soon enough hydro was cut off and they were in arrears in their rent. Eventually the mobile park was sold and Doreen had no place to go. She couch surfed for awhile, but eventually wore out her stay with friends and in 2007 found herself on our streets, broke and alone. She spent a couple of weeks walking around PoCo all day long until nightfall when she would curl up on the stairs of city hall.

She eventually met others making their homes on the street and learned that the bush is a better place to rest your head. Another homeless person offered her a tent and she learned about the food bank and Hope for Freedom Outreach workers and what they had to offer. She made use of the Cold wet Weather Mat Program when it was initiated in the fall 2007. By February 2008 Doreen had had enough. She could no longer keep this up. She knew she needed help and asked for it. Hope for Freedom helped her get into a shelter, then into transitional housing and addictions counselling. She eventually got a job in a recovery house, but that didn’t work out for the long term and once again she found she was homeless. She couch surfed or took care of children in exchange for rent. She stayed with friends – who it turns out were using drugs – so Doreen got herself a tent and went back to the woods. She was outside for one night, but knew that this was no longer the life for her.

She had a few dollars saved from her last pay cheque and managed to find a room for rent in PoCo and between what she gets on welfare and the widow’s pension, she is able to make ends meet and stay drug free. Doreen plans to go back to school to become an addictions counselor.

Mike's StoryMike worked as a longshoreman at Vancouver ports for 20 years. He worked hard and loved the night shift. It was social and there was plenty of work. Mike and his wife owned a townhouse and made their life in Port Moody. Together they were making over $100,000 a year. They had no children permitting them the luxury of travel, playing lots of golf (especially in Hawaii) and thinking about early retirement.

But Mike wasn’t happy in the marriage and decided that after 10 years, it was time for him to move on. For Mike this was the beginning of the end.

Wracked with guilt for leaving his wife to be with another woman, he drank his guilt away and wound up with an impaired driving charge. Eventually he lost his driver’s license making it difficult to get to work and cocaine helped him to feel better. Mike started to miss work and the coke use was hurting his nasal passages so he started freebasing the drug – smoking it.

Mike’s life then really became unravelled – he sold his town house and downsized to a trailer park in Port Moody – smoking all of the revenues from the sale of the townhouse. Within three months in the trailer park Mike was in arrears for the rental of his trailer pad. So he sold the trailer (at a loss) and moved to Coquitlam to rent a small apartment where he managed to stay for a year.

Mike collected bottles, worked on occasion and got high as often as possible. Soon he was evicted – he was not working at all so couldn’t pay rent and now he was
homeless. He couched surfed for awhile, but with no money to pay a portion of rent, even friendship would not put a roof over his head.
Mike slept on Port Moody streets – the last place that felt like home. He would sleep near dumpsters, in motor homes or wherever he could find a dry place. Mike spent his days getting up from wherever he had laid his head the previous night at 6:30 am. He collected bottles until 9:30 when he would phone his dealer to buy $15 worth of crack. He would get high and by 11 am he was out looking for bottles again so that he could get high again in the afternoon. He repeated this cycle several times a day until the bottle depots closed and he found a place to rest his head later at night.

Within a year Mike knew that this had to stop and with the help of Marilyn – a woman who befriended him at the Port Moody Starbucks, and Hope for Freedom Society he went to rehab, but within 10 days he was back on the street. He subsequently contracted pneumonia and with Marilyn’s help once again, he decided to go to reconnect with his wife who is now living in Kamloops and to see if a different environment would provide him with what he needed to live life drug free. It worked for three months. He got a job and made a go of it until he relapsed except this time he had introduced his wife to drugs too. The drugs had significant impact on his wife and her health rapidly deteriorated so he sent her to her parents in Alberta and he came back to Port Moody – or to what Mike calls ‘Hell’. He managed to reconnect with Marilyn once more and ever so slowly he regained some dignity. He started to feel like he had a life worth saving and tried to reconnect with his wife one last time up in Salmon Arm. Within two weeks he had a job at Safeway and soon afterward he was back into a normal routine as a taxpayer and a
golfer! Mike says he put down the crack pipe and picked up his golf clubs!

Mike recently moved back to the Tri-Cities. He is renting an apartment with his wife in Coquitlam. He has returned to work as a longshoreman and he struggles every day to stay clean. He knows that if there hadn’t been several hands for him to grasp on to – he wouldn’t be alive today and making a ‘go’ at having a life with a roof over his head.


The following stories have been written by two of the outreach workers, Darren Charuk and Laura Binette, of the Hope For Freedom Society based upon their experiences with homeless persons in the Tri-Cities.

Beauty Without the Beast

by Darren Charuk

Here’s a story of a young attractive blonde girl who at the age of 23 has experienced more than most her age. Our first contact with this young lady was when her mother called us desperate for help. You see, the girl had relapsed and was now in the company of a very violent man. A day after the man physically assaulted her and left cuts and bruises on her we met for an assessment of how we could help. The beast in this lady’s life was not only the abusive boyfriend but another called HEROIN. We decided { my partner and I } that until she made a decision to clean up all we were prepared to do was find a shelter for her and encourage her to get well. On Aug.7th we received a call from this lady and she told us that she could get into detox tomorrow. Totally excited, we picked her up at 7:00 a.m. the next day and drove her to Maple Cottage detox in Burnaby. A week later there was life back in her eyes a bounce in her step and hope for the future. Today, this girl is in a healthy relationship, off drugs and working.

What Will It Take?

by Darren Charuk

There are many times that I ask myself this question, but with this one particular client I’m afraid only God has the answer. Since May of this year we have been working with this woman and just when we think were making progress she runs. This lady is around 40 years of age and has a daughter of 10. She has been homeless now for over two years and to see her you would never guess it. She has lived in abandoned sheds, tent cities and even alone in the bush. During the past five months we have gotten her into a recovery house (which she left), on social assistance so that she could have medical and a few dollars for food and personal care. We also had a bed reserved at a shelter that would have provided a program for helping her get well but every attempt made she either ran or told us she’s not ready. Her mother died suddenly in August and since then she seems to be lost in a different world. We still see her weekly at the food bank as well as God Rock, but mostly we see her biking around town on her old 10 speed that has no brakes, a basket out front that is decorated with flowers and a sadness written on her face.

What will it take?
What I do know is we will not give up.

Till Death Do Us Part

by Darren Charuk

Marriage, a sacred union that has been watered down over the years so that when hard times come (and they do) it has been made far to easy to get a divorce. The couple that I’m going to tell you about has been married for over 32 years and for the last 2 they have been homeless. Imagine if you can, having a business, home, cars one day and before you know it you’re living in a tent under a tarp. First contact with these folks was early in the project when another one of our teams laid the groundwork in what was to become a huge success. Day after day, night after night they would go and pick up cans and bottles to make enough to just survive. Regardless of the weather, regardless of their health they had to go to “work“. Throughout all this they stayed together and never gave up. After we got them on assistance the process of restoration was in motion. Currently, teeth are being made for the woman and they have just been approved to rent a one bedroom apartment in Port Moody and we are hoping to move them in on Oct 3rd. They both want to return to the workforce and once they move in we will help them with furniture that we get donated to us.

Twenty Two

by Darren Charuk

This is perhaps the most touching and rewarding story that I have the privilege of sharing with you. Sometimes, just sometimes people come into your life and leave a lasting impression, and this is exactly what this young couple did to me. I would love to tell you their whole story but what I am going to tell you is the transformation that took place in just a short period of time. On July 27th at 12:45 pm we responded to a call about some homeless people and when we arrived we found them in an abandoned house. There were four young people { 2 men and 2 women } and needless to say I knew them all. They were all high on drugs and the place was trashed with no concern about the property or whom it belonged to. At the time there was no reasoning with them, but before I left I told them that there is a better way so I gave them a couple of our cards and left it at that. All I could do was pray for them. A week later, one of the couples phoned and was asking for help. At this point they were going down fast. They were running out of couches to surf, cars to steal and sleep in, but most of all they were losing their sanity. We met with them, developed a plan and put it into action. On August 7th my partner and I took the young lady to Maple Cottage detox, where after a week she regained a lot of her health and thinking ability. I can also tell you this that throughout all this the mother was in constant contact with us as she needed to know how things were going with the recovery process. We re-united her and her boyfriend after the week and for the next week they stayed at a safe place. They then found their own place and have since moved. The NA program talks about jails, institutions and death and both of these 22 year olds have experienced the first two on numerous occasions. It’s been over two months since the crack shack incident and I am thrilled to tell you that they are both working, have set goals and are extremely motivated to succeed. I talk to them regularly and I am so proud of the work they have done to get well.

The Cowboy

by Darren Charuk

I can only imagine what it must be like for people living today that are over sixty in today’s world. The man I’m going to tell you a little about is a loner and the most important thing left to him is his appearance. When I first met this man I could not for the life of me believe that he lived outside. This was not a homeless man. He had on the full gear, cowboy hat, cowboy boots western shirt with tie, blue jeans and a western buckle and he was almost “SPOTLESS”. This man is not just an alcoholic but suffers from a mental disability as well. He is very childlike and when he doesn’t get his own way he has a tendency to run rather than be held accountable. This has made him a flight risk for any type of housing as he has bolted on numerous occasions. After he had spent a month in a shelter, we found him a room in Maple Ridge. Almost like clockwork, this man phones me everyday complaining of something or another and I listen and listen and after he has vented I tell him I love him and that he’s doing well even though he thinks he isn’t. He now has been in the same place for over three months and that is a miracle in itself. I go out every Saturday to bring him his medications and some food from the food bank and we sit on his balcony smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and I listen to his tales of the old days when streets were one lane and malls, well … were rare.

Turning It Around

by Darren Charuk

Last year I met a man who was so lost in his own thoughts that it was hard to see any hope. Everything was a conspiracy, from a government agency after him to his secret contacts he had to sue different agencies. He spoke in riddles and for awhile I thought that he had permanently damaged his brain from the drugs. He started hanging out at the food bank and eventually started to help out. This is where he began to change. His weekly service turned into months and he stopped using drugs as he enjoyed the fellowship of clean and sober people. It didn’t take long before his thinking ability returned and when he realized the joy of helping the less fortunate it put things into perspective for him. Within the next few months this man has had a complete makeover.
He has a job, a partner and a new life. I can tell that is very rewarding to have a case like this as it shows that when a person is willing we can find and use the limited resources available to us. This is how it worked:
• Homeless
• Shelter
• Social assistance
• Support and stability
• Job
• Re-integration

 

…Honesty.

Change

by Darren Charuk

“To alter or make different.”
That is what one definition in the “Webster’s Dictionary “states. This is perhaps the most challenging part of my job when it comes to helping people with their belief system. I am not going to go into too much detail about this topic as I can go on for quite awhile. I am going to share with you an experience I had with a mother who had made the decision to change. She came down from the Sunshine Coast to help her daughter and her two babies who were abandoned by her boyfriend. However, the grandmother had a serious drug addiction and at first I doubted her will to get clean without treatment, but she was determined. She had been using crack cocaine for the last 18 years and was about to quit cold turkey. When the grandmother arrived, her daughter was now living in a one bedroom suite that was below ground. It was dark, gloomy and way too small for the four of them. To make matters worse the 26 year old addicted brother also came and slept over for a number of days before he was asked to leave.

Then, after living there for only a week, a water main broke outside and flooded their place. During this time the grandmother was in full detox mode and was not exactly the happiest person. However she hung in there and stayed clean. Right after the flood, they had to get out of there as mould was starting to appear on the walls and so the daughter started looking immediately. It has now been seven weeks that the grandmother has stayed off the crack and it is not only her determination and stubbornness that has done this, but her willingness to look at her old belief system, behaviours and make the effort to change. Today, they are getting ready to move into a newer three bedroom upstairs portion of a house with lots of fresh air and plenty of light. By staying off the crack, the grandmother has found renewed strength and an increasing love of life. I’ve told her from the beginning that when you make the decision to clean up and make changes, good things will happen.

A Daughter’s Love

by Laura Binette

I learned an important lesson tonight. It wasn’t a lesson about doing, making or changing something; rather it was about the love of a daughter for her father. The father has been homeless for a number of years and we’ve been working with him since the beginning of the project, which is now a year old. He’s tried recovery but found that the restrictions of that centre were too binding and so he left. I suppose that when you’ve been “away “from society for a long period of time it’s hard to readjust. Anyway, as I was walking toward the place where we all gather for an hour, I noticed a young couple standing there with a stroller just waiting. I introduced myself as did they and what I found out is that they had just come over from Victoria and were here to show her dad his three week old grandson. The daughter knows that her dad is homeless and they haven’t seen each other in over a year, but none of that mattered as he rode up on his well worn mountain bike. As I stood back and watched this tearful reunion, it occurred to me that this young woman with a newborn didn’t look at her father’s appearance, but rather with incredible pride as she showed him the baby. We all make choices in life, some good, some bad and we have to live with the consequences of those choices, but what I saw in this man’s eyes after his daughter left was a glimmer of hope. Whatever choices he makes in the future about his situation we will be there to support him in a positive manner.

Home

by Laura Binette

I met Vince about 4-5 months ago when some concerned city workers called me in to do an assessment. They were tearing down his “camp” and wanted us to help him find some resources. It turns out I had seen him around a few times but had never really got to know him until that day. I did not expect what I found when I arrived. Vince had built with his own two hands what looked like a little cabin! Using whatever materials he could find he had fashioned himself a shack. He even ran extension cords from nearby businesses at night to provide light. Vince and I got to talking and decided on a course of action as he was soon going to lose his beloved shack. I can’t remember exactly why but I know it was not exactly a legal set up, no permits etc. We kept in contact and my partner Darren and I continued to encourage him in his quest to change his lifestyle. A couple weeks later I came by his shack to get pictures before the city tore it down. There he was looking rather distraught tearing it down himself! He said he built it with his own two hands so he should be the one to tear it down. It occurred to me that given the opportunity this man could find a way to improve any aspect of his life physical, emotional, financial etc. while addressing the barriers he faced (addiction being one of them). It is that same spirit of determination that can carry a person from the streets to a new way of life. Not everybody is there yet though, sometimes an individual won’t see their world tumbling down around them. The reality of life on the street is bleak at best so why would any person want to face that? Vince still accesses some of the resources we provide but is back on the street again today. I hope it won’t be for long because I know given the right tools he could build anything. Even a new life.