To Willingly Stand Up And Be Counted … When It Counts

By James Breckenridge. For some reason it just strikes me as appropriate to be terminated by the Salvation Army on Halloween.

At 11:21 AM on Friday October 31, 2014 in the office of Community Ministries Director Nate McCready I was handed the paperwork of my termination and in turn handed over the envelope that contained the Salvation Army swipe card and keys in my possession.

I had prepared the envelope, placing the card and keys into it, because it would have been a surprise not to be terminated.

When the head of PR for Vancouver Coastal Health seeks to contact you first thing in the morning, the Centre of Hope has a new Director who is working not to lose the contract to provide shelter/outreach services, and someone has warned you your story has set off a ‘shit storm’ you know you have upset the quince cart.

Being asked ‘did you get her signed written consent’ as part of the inquiry, you know that you need to put the swipe card and keys in an envelope to make surrendering them upon termination neater.

I spoke to the 75-year-old woman when, shortly after her arrival in Abbotsford from Vancouver Coastal Health, she emerged from the washroom and stood there looking around bewildered. I got up and escorted her to a seat at the table were people were sitting and having coffee.

She spoke of what was going on, of how she didn’t want to be in Abbotsford where she knew no one and asked if there was any way I could help her get back to Vancouver Coastal. We spoke of writing a story about her situation to provide motivation for Vancouver Coastal Health to help her, not simply dump her.

I spoke to the shelter’s new 75-year-old guest a few days later, at a venue other than the Centre of Hope, after she had been contacted by the Province newspaper about the story I had written and the fact that it should have provided enough motivation for Vancouver Coastal Health to do right by her.

Over the years of my employment at the Salvation Army I had been asked on a number of occasions “are you staff or are you an advocate for the homeless?” Making it clear that being staff or advocate are considered mutually exclusive.

Over time I had received a number of warnings that choosing to write stories such as the dumping of chicken feces on the homeless, or giving a deposition to Pivot, put my employment at risk.

I was aware when I wrote about Vancouver Coastal Health dumping a 75 year old woman at the Abbotsford shelter I was running, taking the circumstances into consideration, a considerable risk of being terminated.

Mental Illness has had a profound effect on the direction my life has taken, not simply because it resulted in being homeless.

At the time mental illness redirected my life I had 25 years of experience as a Chartered Accountant and businessman. When I found wellness the stigma attached to mental illness made my mental health a concern for those who were looking for someone of my background and experience, providing a barrier to my finding employment.

The ironic thing is that in dealing with mental illness and finding wellness I was better able to handle myself, markedly better in situations of change, chaos and great stress.

Finding wellness required learning about mental health, spending a great deal of time inside my head, learning about myself, making choices about who I wanted to be and getting comfortable in my own skin and with who I am.

During that journey I chose be a person who is willing to stand up to be counted where and when it counts. I consciously chose to follow ‘he fears his fate to much who fears to put it all to the touch’ [which is how I remembered a toast from SF author Jerry Pournelle’s novel Falkenberg’s Legion].

I adopted “dedicated to nonconformity and creative maladjustment” from Martin Luther King Jr. and use it as part of my email signature.

Vancouver Coastal Health dumping a 75-year-old woman not only into another health region [Fraser Health], but into an emergency shelter, is not only unacceptable, it is a red flag about how inadequate and under attack/pressure the systems that deliver healthcare and other services to British Columbians are.

Given who I have become as a result of my journey through mental illness, there was no choice to make, I simply wrote the article. It is also why I accept the consequences of that action.

I was asked if I could promise that writing a story of that type, that nature, would not happen again.

Twenty-five years of experience as a Chartered Accountant and businessman means that only the highest level of wilful denial would let me ignore the fact that budget/financial realities, wilful denial by voters and the need for politicians – at least those [if any] not in wilful denial – to not tell voters anything the voters don’t want to hear, have placed healthcare and other services at risk and turned the homeless into the equivalent of the canary in a coalmine for the state of healthcare and services in British Columbia.

Those twenty-five years of experience, together with who I have become and what I have learned means that I know these type of unacceptable behaviours will increase. Any promise I made that I would not write a story would be a lie.

Even knowing that I would need to find employment to replace the lost income or be at risk of homelessness, Integrity left no choice but to say I could not make such a promise.

Who I am means that the person who told me “a bright man like you should be able to find something better to do with his spare time than advocate for the homeless” was and is wrong.

Because, given the state of affairs and government in British Columbia, advocating for the homeles means you are advocating for the elderly, the most vulnerable, young people, for pretty much all of us, the future of healthcare and government services, and the quality of life for British Columbians.

Besides, as long as an elderly woman cries out for help, I will fight.

Montrose’s Toast

“He either fears his fate too much,
Or his desserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
To win or lose it all!”

James Graham, 5th Earl of Montrose
1612 to 1650
Royalist General during the English Civil War


This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists… The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority… Human salvation lies in the hands of the creative maladjusted.
Martin Luther King, Jr.



Nonconformity is creative when it is controlled and directed by a transformed life and is constructive when it embraces a new mental outlook
Martin Luther King, Jr.



While women weep, as they do now, I ’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight; I’ll fight to the very end!

William Booth

James W Breckenridge

dedicated to nonconformity and creative maladjustment

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