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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.  They were originally published in Tri-Cities Outreach Advocacy Report 1 and Tri-Cities Outreach & Advocacy Report 2.

The Power of Addiction 

by Darren Charuk

Imagine, being in a muddy, slimy, dark deep pit trying desperately to get out. You claw your way inches from the top and to freedom and just when you think your there you slip back down again and again. That is how I can describe this man’s addiction. He has been homeless now for over three years and uses drugs daily. This man tried recovery once this year and stayed clean for 4 days before he gave in to the power of the addiction. We see him now and then and we’ll stop, talk briefly and give him some words of encouragement. But until he surrenders to the fact that he is an addict, nothing can be done. Today, the man reminds me of an x-ray as he is so thin and physically beaten I’m amazed that he is still alive.

All I Need is a Place

by Darren Charuk

We, as outreach workers, hear this phrase time and time again. At times we also here “ ALL I NEED IS A JOB “ and in this story its about a mother of two who was so adamant that a place would solve her problems that we decided to help her get on Social Assistance and see if she could find a place and get off the drugs. At this point her kids are with her mother as this woman has been living out of a parked van. May 25th 1:30 pm was first contact when this lady came up to me and asked for some money. I wouldn’t give her any but I did ask her a few questions and she mentioned she was homeless and wanted help but not yet. This lady disappeared for two months and re-surfaced at the end of July. She had been using a lot of drugs so we tried to suggest recovery but she said all she needed was a place and all would be o.k. Even though we knew from experience that it would never work we got her onto Social Assistance and she started looking for a place. Today, Sept. 12th this 37 year old mother of two is still homeless, still on drugs, but the saddest thing of all is that she truly believes that she will be fine once she gets a place.

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.

Out of Touch

by Darren Charuk

Denial, it’s a powerful, powerful, closed way of thinking.
The dictionary defines denial as:“ TO REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE “. In this man’s case he either would not or could not face up to the fact that he has any part in his homelessness. He has the illusion of grandeur and can’t understand that he needs to partake in his recovery and his reintegration back into society. He minimizes his drug use and says he rarely uses, but it’s hard to conceal the rapid weight loss. From the time we met this man we have offered numerous resources to help him, as in recovery house services to shelters to treatment. We even found him a room but he turned it down as it was in Maple Ridge and he didn’t want to be that far away from his fourteen year old daughter. He talks about being the perfect father, husband and employee, but when he gets asked as to how he became homeless he becomes very defensive and elusive. At times he also mentions about being followed and watched from different agencies and when he speaks about them he’s deadly serious. This individual is also quite intelligent as he has looked up portions of the law and will be confrontational with officials when they come around. At the city works yard camp, he bragged that they were going to bring in a portable toilet and a water tank. Reality was, the city moved him and others a few days later. The past six months have been a challenge as we’ve seen him go to jail, hospitals and walk around with severe infections on his legs. However we will not give up.

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.

For the Love of Dogs

by Darren Charuk

Personally, I don’t own a dog but I do know people that do and I can tell you that they treat them like kids. Usually people may have one or two and sometimes more, but this little short story is about a lady who ended up homeless and had with her 16 dogs albeit there were newborns (11) and 5 full grown adults. This lady must have been a breeder as they were all Boxers. Now, news travels extremely fast on the street and within days of her becoming homeless we were informed of the situation and one of our teams responded. It took a little bit of trail breaking and a lot of mosquito bites but she was eventually located near the Coquitlam river. Upon first contact we knew something had to be done with the puppies as they were near the age of adoption. Well, once the word got out that there were puppies involved in this case people started asking how they could purchase one. The next thing I heard is that the whole bunch of them got bought up and then she moved camp. This time she moved to the south side of the bridge on Pitt River Road and it seemed that she thought she was safe there as it is Indian Reservation land if I’m not mistaken (please don’t quote me). However, once again she was discovered and asked to move once more and what she did this time was to move north, but still on the river in the Parks and Rec. side of the bridge. OK, I hope you’re following this because now another dog has just given birth to another litter of puppies so the count is back up to 15 or 16 again. At this point the City was aware of the problem and when it came time for the removal of the camp the S.P.C.A. was present as well as the Fire Dept. Parks and Rec. and the Police. On that day we were also there to observe and to provide support if necessary. Earlier in the day she must have had a friend take the puppies away as there was only the 5 adults there when we were there. However within an hour she and her dogs had disappeared saying that they had a place to go. My partner and I entered the camp for the first time and what I saw was, to say the least mind blowing. Imagine if you will, you’re walking down a wooded forest and on the side of the trail there’s a bookshelf full of weathered books and beside it lying on the ground a dead Boxer puppy. You’re standing there amongst a person’s whole life, dishes, pots, pans, towels, living room lamps, a box of videos, ornaments { some broken, some not } bikes, and I could go on and on but I think you get the drift. This lady loved her dogs so much that she would rather live outside to be with them than to have shelter and turn her dogs to anyone. Before I wrap up this story I want you to understand that the reason the dogs weren’t taken away sooner is that they were not abused, mistreated in any way and they were in perfect health. Where is she now? There are rumours that she has been seen in places such as Belcarra, Anmore and someone even said that they heard from a friend of a friend that she might be in Surrey.
Well, all I know is we haven’t seen her.
But if you happen to hear of any boxer puppies for sale we would like to know how she is doing.

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.

Office with a View

by Darren Charuk

Do you work in an office? Well, right now I am and the air in here is stale. By the time you finish reading this story you should know who I am writing about. This man’s office has an abundance of fresh air, non-stop people traffic and is located in the heart of downtown Port Coquitlam. Yes, he refers to his spot outside the liquor store as his office. He’s been there for years and on most occasions he’s very well mannered except when he drinks too much Colt 45. It wasn’t always like this though, years ago (I don’t know how many) he was beaten very badly and has been disabled ever since. He was a successful man with a wife and kids but after that incident he began drinking a lot and family and things disappeared. I asked him once about life on the street and he says it’s getting worse with young people getting violent toward him and others but there’s no place that will take him as a tenant as he will not quit drinking. In the winter he goes to the shelter every night but returns to his “ OFFICE “ every day as he has kept it open for many a year. I recall him telling me once that he was being robbed every night for a week straight and in every case he would scream out at his assailant “DO YOU THINK IF I HAD ANY MONEY I WOULD BE LIVING ON THE STREET!” He has a lot of friends that live on the street and they try and watch out for him as best they can and I and my partner, well, we try to stop and visit with him at his job, share some laughs, give him some food and check out his health. Oh, one final note that keeps me sane is he refers to his shopping cart as his Winnebago.

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

Eight Days

by Darren Charuk

That is how much notice this seventy two year old man had to move. Not only pack his belongings, but find a new place to live. A little stressful, I’d say, but that is exactly the window of time this man had. This guy was no slouch. He immediately went to work. We received this case on day 3 of 8 and he had already made contact with various seniors housing complexes with the same response, a waiting list. On day five our stress levels were going up and time was not on our side. My partner and I had to re-think our strategy and possibly downgrade our search from a residence to a shelter unless something happened quickly. Day 6 of 8. Finally a breakthrough. At a local seniors complex a single unit came available right out of the blue and because he faced homelessness he was put on the priority list. He was contacted and after viewing the place he took it. On the last day we moved his belongings into his new bachelor suite. In the week that followed we were able to provide this man with good used furniture from our donations and this determined, feisty guy settled in nicely.

All I Need Is…..Part Two

by Darren Charuk

A job, a place, a damage deposit, a chance, and the list could go on and on and on. These are the most common phrases I hear amongst the active addicts that live outside. Yet when I ask them how they ended up homeless they blame others, situations and once I had a guy tell me that he just wanted to see what it was like. (A year later he is still doing research) Recently, a local hotel closed and three people were given a substantial amount of money to secure housing. My partner and I were there when they received their cheques and this is what they said: I am going to get a place
I am going to get my kids back
I am going to start over.
I am going to get my life back.
I could go on, but I think you get my message. Sad to say I saw the man a week later malnourished, skinny and broke. The two women lasted a few days longer before they appeared asking for blankets, clothing and camping supplies. The bottom line is this: All I need is…Honesty.


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.

Watching It Grow

by Darren Charuk

January 16th, 2008 11:40 am
It’s clear and cold outside as we walk along the trails near the sub-station in Port Coquitlam. Snow still blankets the ground as this winter has provided more than the usual amounts in the region. What myself and my partners are doing is searching this particular area for homeless camps as this is a popular area. Last summer there were at least 4 active camps at one time. The location is chosen as access can be a little difficult at times, especially when it rains. This tends to keep trail walkers away and most importantly the By-Law officers. The first camp that we came across was mostly cleared out with just the remnants of occupancy. Old clothes frozen to the ground, litter here and there, and it was obvious it had been abandoned for some time. One thing the snow does is weigh everything down, so travelling the trails was at times, slow. On our way to what looked like a large active camp we noticed a person sitting on a log. When we reached him, he was stone cold silent. It turns out that the camp had been abandoned for some time and the site was a sight to be seen. Snow covered shopping carts loaded with clothes, computer parts along with tarps hung at half mast in the trees stretched out for at least 50’. The lone young man seemed to be off in another time and space as he didn’t talk to us, however he did take a card. We introduced ourselves and explained our purpose before we left and once back at our van we shared a moment of reflection and prayer for the young man. A few days passed with no word or contact from him but to our surprise he had been phoning into the recovery house as is the procedure for acceptance. Then on the morning of Jan 25th I arrived at the office and low and behold here was the same man that was sitting not 10 days ago freezing, hungry, lost in his own thoughts sitting at the table upstairs having breakfast. It is now February 25th and the transformation has  been remarkable. The young man has settled in very nicely and has been reunited with his family as so many do when they decide to give recovery a chance to work. It’s hard to put into words the feeling I get when I witness an individual grow in recovery and life. Sometimes all we need to do is plant a seed and something a lot more powerful than me makes it grow and prosper.

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.


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.