Homeless Okanagan man looks for a way off the streets

“Why surround yourself in something you want to get away from?

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 strengthen with the harder drugs,” said Alex, who requested 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.”

He lives on the streets 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 Mission, near Dilworth, with churches that will allow him to stay for a few days, or places where people don’t generally go.

READ MORE: Formerly homeless poet shines light on Vernon’s street issues

But he stays as far away from downtown as possible.

“Why surround yourself in something you want to get away from? And that’s why I’ve chosen to bear the cold and do the things I’ve done. (With bylaw officers), they’re just doing their job, but sometimes they’re quite rude and do things in a very inhumane manner,” he said.

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 the housing complex),” he said.

Unable to fulfill the housing requirements, he became homeless. He’s tried kicking the addiction cold turkey, but was unsuccessful.

“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.

Alex said with one BC Housing facility offering the homeless places to live and access to treatment, is a good initiative, but has concerns about it being a wet facility.

“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 to 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.)”

“I did it and I’m proud to say (I quit cold turkey) but with the strength of the drugs right now, I need aid, and that’s why I’ve gone to Interior Health.”

If placed in a BC Housing complex run by the John Howard Society, he said it would be likely he would relapse because it’s too easy to get access to drugs.

While he still uses daily, Alex said he’s to the point where it’s not a massive expense if he could find a job or get social assistance.

READ MORE: Homeless tenters must move for four-laning preparation

While attending a program at Interior Health, he wants to quit using, but it’s difficult when he’s homeless, he said.

Lynn 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,” she said.

Alex’s one piece of advice 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 that 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),” he said.

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