Guess Whose Living On The Street Now

By Regina Dalton. It’s not unusual to hear people make comments — often less than charitable — about those who deal with addictions.

Through my own experiences offered below, I hope to show that people from many backgrounds can find themselves in the grasp of addiction. I have also included the story of someone who helps those same people. The stories are true, but from a sufficiently distant past that no one’s privacy will be compromised.

To rent or not to rent, that is the question :

We have a rental property for which, understandably, we screen prospective tenants. In one instance a man about 40 and his 14-year old daughter came for the interview accompanied by his present landlord, who also happened to be his boss at work. Apparently their current rental was up for sale, and they wanted to be in a secure situation.

When offered this type of in-person reference, it’s hard to say “no”. So we rented to the dad (who I will call Ian) and his daughter (to whom I will refer as Lea).

Everything went well for a while — perhaps for as long as the better part of a year. Then we entered a period of economic slowdown, and our tenant started having difficulty paying rent. I did not find out until later that some of the now- decreased amount of family income was going to drugs — not only for the father, but for the daughter as well.

Just before Christmas (almost two years into their tenancy) I recognized that the holiday season was going to be very grim for them. As long as Ian would sign that he had received it from me, I offered to return their security deposit. For whatever reason he refused, informing me that a charitable organization would be helping them. I thought afterwards that the refusal came from a certain level of integrity — he knew they would be leaving without notice, and chose not to take advantage of the situation.

When we tried to collect the January rent, our tenants were gone. Yet every single piece of furniture, along with many personal items, were left behind. We stored the furniture till we could donate it — and it was in good enough condition that two thrift stores accepted it — and I tried to get the daughter’s journals and other books back to her through her school.

When I went to the school, I was not surprised to hear that the daughter had left with no forwarding school for her records. Since the specre of confidentiality is usually invoked, I was suprised to receive as much information as I did. It was confirmed (and obvious by the books I was trying to return) that Lea was reading and performing at school at a much higher level than her age would suggest.

On returning home, I did something I have never done before — I read someone else’s journals. Lea’s was a sad story throughout. I will not share anything more than that she wrote about her descent into addiction (an addiction that apparently had yet to affect her marks at school). She wrote of how she managed to avoid her dad finding out about her using drugs, and also wrote about her father’s addiction.

It’s been many years now, but I still wonder what happened to Ian and Lea.

Conversation on an outdoor couch :

A few years back, when the old Co-op building was still somewhat intact, I noticed a man sitting on a couch at the side of the building (let’s call him Jared). Even though he looked clean and not shabbily dressed, I was fairly sure he was one of the street folk who were sleeping rough in that area, and asked whether I could chat with him for a while. When he said “yes” I joined him on the couch.

I started with some basics — I asked if he had access to shower facilities, and he explained what was available for those on the street. From there we advanced to his personal life — and was that an interesting story.

Jared told me that he was from Vancouver, and had lived a life of rather high style. He had a well-paying job, a wife (no kids that I remember), a downtown condo, two vehicles, a boat, and an addiction to cocaine. He was able to juggle it all for several years, and then the balls hit the floor. For a while he was on the streets in Vancouver, and then travelled out to Abbotsford.

He told me that he was now off cocaine, had found a job (quite different from what he was used to in Vancouver, but satisfactory), and would be leaving his life on the streets behind him.

I left, bouyed up by the discussion, and if this was a feel-good story, we’d stop here. It is not, however. A few months afterwards, and in another part of town, I saw Jared once again. This time he did not look as well put together, and was noticeably limping. I did not try very hard to catch his eye in order to find out what had happened since our last conversation.

Missing items, missing people :

A little over a decade ago we moved to our present home. In the first few months we had relatively minor items disappear from our backyard on a fairly regular basis — potted plants, garden tools, a small outdoor table. Nothing was very valuable, but it was aggravating never the less. I soon found out that what was stolen would be sufficient to keep up a daily habit of crystal meth.

In trying to find out what was going on, I asked neighbouring residents and businesses if they had seen any person in and around our home. It took a while, but I did find out who it was. Contrary to my expectations, it was not a man, but instead a woman (we’ll call her Alice). She was not a young woman, and neither was she someone who would have fit my definition of a street person at all.

I was able to piece together her story from what I heard from several sources. Apparently she had been a nurse, and when I found that out I made the assumption she had started her addiction by lifting drugs from her place of work. However, assumptiongs are just that, and I do not know whether that was true or not.

I also found out that she was a mother, and that her husband had tried to support her through her addiction. Apparently by the time she entered our yard she had been through detox at least three or four times.

Not much later the thefts stopped, and I soon realized that was not because she had left town. She had, however, moved location, and I would occasionally see her in the Clearbrook area. I have not seen her for about 8 or 9 years now, and can’t help but wonder whether she is still alive.

Someone who understands Ian, Lea, Jared & Alice :

I know a woman in her 80s who has yet to slow down — and although this may be a cliche, listen up.

In her 70s she decided to find some meaningful volunteer work, and joined the group that was offering weekly breakfasts to Abbotsford’s street people in Jubilee Park. She was a long-term participant in this venture until the city decided to shut that ministry down.

Then she became part of the group offering evening meals to those in need. She told me of the one dinner she organized herself. Apparently if you want to feed between 100 and 200 people, you begin with eight pounds of hamburger, twelve cans of kidney beans, a friend willing to start the sauce, another who supplies the salad greens, and volunteers from your church to make the salad, and serve the dinner.

I don’t know about you, but I doubt I’d take on that responsibility.

Another kindness this woman offered (and may still, for as much as I know) was to visit Jubilee Park and take coffee to people there. She also told me of watching out for those who had not been able to sleep because of either fear for their safety, or that their possessions would be stolen.

So she’d offer to sit with an individual on one of the park benches while they slept, assuring them she would keep an eye out for both them and their goods.

Talk about ageing gracefully.

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