Alex has been living on the streets for a year.
The 30-year-old uses drugs daily, something that started seven years ago when a punch to the face in a bar fight left him with a broken jaw.
He was prescribed painkillers and that was the tipping point to no return.
“It just gradually got worse as the sources became more tainted and strengthened with the harder drugs,” said Alex, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I always held down a steady job. I was working my ass off. One bad decision can seriously start a massive landslide.”
Now he lives on the street to avoid homeless shelters, which he said are unsafe and theft is common.
He sets up temporary shelters with his girlfriend in the rural areas of the Mission, as well as near Dilworth, at churches that will allow him to stay for a few days or places where people don’t generally go.
And he stays as far away from downtown as possible.
“Why surround yourself in something you want to get away from?,” he said. “That’s why I’ve chosen to bear the cold and do the things I’ve done. (Bylaw officers), they’re just doing their job, but sometimes they’re quite rude and do things in a very inhumane manner.”
With addiction, it became increasingly difficult for him to hold down a job, he said. No one wants to hire an addict.
“I was put into a position where I literally had to turn everything around, which included dump the girlfriend, get off heroin, which you don’t do in a night. It’s a very long process, and if I did, I would have been allowed to stay (in a housing complex).”
Unable to fulfill the housing requirements, he became homeless. He’s said he tried kicking the addiction cold turkey, but was unsuccessful. He now uses daily, but would rather be clean.
“It’s very violent. You try to sleep and you thrash and you kick. You can overstretch your muscles to the point you feel like your bones are breaking,” he said.
His mother, Kathy Lynn, said he stayed at her place when temperatures dropped this winter, but her landlord didn’t approve.
“It’s basically stereotyping, thinking everyone is the same,” Alex said.
He said BC Housing’s facilities offering the homeless places to live and access to treatment are good initiatives, but he has concerns about the fact they are “wet” facilities where drug consumption is allowed on site.
“You’re not setting a guideline for the drug use,” he said. “I think they need to be a little more strict, to the point of, ‘yes, you obviously have this addiction and this problem, but have the freedom of just going and using.’ It’s almost as if the staff should be the drug dealers and have them (prescribe small amount of drugs.)”
If placed in a BC Housing complex run by the John Howard Society, he said it would be hard to stay clean.
While he still uses, Alex said he’s to the point where it’s not a massive expense if he could find a job or get social assistance.
His mother wrote a letter to the Capital News a few weeks ago in order to shed light on the stigma around homelessness.
“They treat them horribly, even though they’re doing nothing wrong,” she said.
She said family members have told her to walk away.
“I can’t do that. This is my son,” said Kathy Lynn.
Alex’s one piece of advice to the public is to be sympathetic, because that’s what people on the streets need.
“Keep your hands out, don’t stick your nose up to people. If somebody asks you for change, be polite. If you can or can’t do it, don’t roll your window up,” he said.
“We’re struggling. We don’t like what we look like. We don’t like what we’re doing. We know we’re disgusting. We’re not proud of it. I don’t think there’s a single homeless person on the street who you’ll ask that will say they’re proud of who they are.”
Sometimes, all homeless people need is someone to talk to, Alex said.
“People need to just take a minute and think about the situation. Just take a second (put your feet in those people’s shoes).“
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