Tag Archives: drugs

memory of a midnight mission

my blog reminded me today that 3 years ago i started this blog.  it sure doesn’t feel like that long ago.  crazy how time passes by so fast.

in light of that, i thought i would share a memory from 2010.

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it’s a bit past 1am before i get to new beginnings church where lou has been living during his internship.  if you didn’t know any better, you’d think we were robbing the church.  we whisper and creep inside the side doors of the church and into the basement.

that’s where our stash is.

two large garbage bags full of pastries, donated by a local baker who cares for the poor in his community.

tonight is going to be good.  lou and i are both psyched.

new beginnings was a church just on the fringe of the downtown eastside of vancouver.   just a hop, skip and a jump from the glow of the dtes.  surrounded by cheap public housing for first nations and immigrants populations, the church was created to help the local community in any way they could.  pastor joe was a large man (i felt like a dwarf beside him) who had an even larger heart and a crazy redemption story he didn’t mind sharing.

back outside, we sat on the ledge beside the church contemplating our midnight mission.  we had about 70 pounds of sweets between the two bags we found in the basement.

south.

we would head south until we found someone or we hit the industrial park.  bags slung over our shoulders we set off.

bill was filling his cart up with new cans he had found in the gas station garbage bin when we crossed paths with him.  his haul was quite substantial.  he had been working hard for several hours before he met us.  pushing the cart around all day had made him really hungry.

‘how about some muffins or donuts?’ lou offered.

‘can i have both?’

‘you can have a few of each if you want.’

bill didn’t need to be told twice.  out came four pastries of his choosing, a few oozing with icing and creamy filling.

a big smile came across bill’s face and our own.  we talked with him for a while, hearing his story about life on the streets.  he gave us some wise advice which he repeated for emphasis.

‘don’t you boys forget this now, ya hear?’

we promised we wouldn’t and shook hands to seal our new friendship with bill.

we veered left heading towards the dtes.  a few street girls were working on the corners as we passed.  they all looked like they hadn’t eaten in days, maybe weeks.  i felt a bit bad giving them sugary, innutritious food but it was all we had and they needed something in their bellies.  they were very grateful. we wished them a safe night and kept going.  their pimps don’t like you hanging around for very long, even if you are feeding them.

oppenheimer park was empty but the streets surrounding it were crawling with action.  drug deals were being done in the shadows of sunken door ways on the street corners.  a group of people were huddled up against one of the buildings have a bit of a party.  we asked if they were hungry, knowing full well what their answer would be.

‘yeah!  what do you got?’ came the reply.

‘donuts, muffins and other sweet stuff.’  i replied.

arms shot up like i was a teacher in an elementary school class room asking who wanted to go next for show-and-tell.  everyone was hungry.

‘why are you guys doing this?’

lou and i looked at each other and shrugged.

‘we had food and figured there would be hungry people on the street to share it with.  we also figured it would be a great way to make some new friends.’

‘well, i’m definitely your friend now!’

and with that one of the guys stumbled to his feet and threw his arms around us to give us a big hug.  a couple of others joined and the group hug got bigger.

donuts + conversation + late night walking in the ghetto = new friends

i love that kind of math.

we meandered our way on to east hastings where most of the action was happening.  a cop car races by on their way to something important as drug dealers offered us ‘some of their best stuff.’  persistent guys considering i’ve walked by them for the past 8 months having said ‘no, thanks’ every time.  we offer them some sugary snack but they wave us off.  they can afford better food with the money they make of selling crack to the addicts in the neighborhood.

part of me wants to drag them into the nearest dark alley way and beat the drug dealer out of them.  it might work but there’s too many of them and more waiting to replace them.  it’s an unending battle.  drugs kill here.  overdoses are far too common in this neighborhood.  and, before it kills you, it robs you of everything else you ever had, keeping you chained and in slavery to the poison that’s slowly killing you.

ugly stuff.

i hear some drug dealers carry guns.  at the very least they have large knives.  i’m mad but not stupid.

another cop car passes by us slowly.  their suspicious eyes are easy to spot.  i don’t like the police here and it’s not because of the way they look at me.

far too many of them treat the homeless and poor in the neighborhood as sub-humans.  i’ve seen cops do some pretty nasty things and get away with it.  the pivot legal society, an organization that tries to create social change by focusing on breaking down systemic barriers to the full realization of human rights, has their hands full with complaints against the vancouver police dept.  accountable policing is a serious issue here.

lou and i meet a young guy (i can’t remember his name) who is roughly our age.  he is partying with friends and heading to another bar when we cross paths.  he asks what we are doing and we tell him a bit about our midnight mission.  the look on his face visibly changes.  he tells his friends to go on without him and he will catch up.

he doesn’t.

he joins us and we continue walking down east hastings, feeding anyone with a hungry belly and a desire to satisfy their sweet tooth.

he comes from a good family but has been running with the wrong crowd for a while.  he knows he shouldn’t but the allure is too much for him.  he has a weakness for strong drink, cocaine and easy women.  he feels trapped.

we walk around for hours with him, talking life and becoming friends.

as he leaves us to head home, he swears our time together has changed him.  we hug it out and say goodbye.  we walk away hoping that

it really has.

lou comes back to my place and we debrief.  he falls asleep in the big, comfy chair in the corner of my room.  i grab a pen and paper to write down everything that happened.  i don’t want to forget this night.

i never did.

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the big OK

the ‘hope’ in hope cottage is fitting.

the area surrounding hope cottage houses a lot of people who live under the poverty line.  there are two men’s homeless shelters about 5 minute walk away.  theres a womens shelter four doors down and another one 10 minutes away.  several small and large public housing buildings dot the urban landscape.  the public row housing and duplex units are all around the cottage.

we have a policy that we only serve meals to adults.  any kids younger than 19 cant eat at the cottage.  when i asked eddie what that was, i was told it was to protect them.  there are known convicted child molesters living in the area who come to the cottage for food.  kids can get sandwiches to go but they cant stay and eat.  i understand why but its still something thats hard for me to swallow.  why should convicted child molesters get precedence over the kids in the community?  i guess if you dont know all the possible offenders then its better to air on the side of caution.
understood.

a lot of addicts come for breakfast and dinner daily.  alcohol, crack, opiates – most people fall into one or a couple of these addictions.  escaping reality and filling the addiction become the invisible shackles and chains.

invisible slavery.

im not using that word as a hyperbole either.  i mean literal slavery defined as ‘the condition of being subject or addicted to a specified influence.’

it kills me to see what some people will do to themselves and others to fill their addictions and appease their slave owners (drugs).  im sure you are no different.  most of us have had to deal with a friend or family member who had a destructive addiction.  theres a certain helplessness that comes from seeing them destroy themselves..

after talking with some other community stake holders, i came up with an idea.  its nothing original or mind-boggling but i think its some thing desperately needed in this community.  the idea is a grass-roots recovery program for addicts.  redeemed and recovered addicts helping current addicts gain the freedom they need to live their lives more abundantly and productively.

eddie, one of the main guys at hope cottage, is a recovered addict after spending a considerable amount of his life battling substance abuse.  after failed attempts at sobriety eddie explained to me that God came to his rescue.  the physical solutions couldnt fix what was a spiritual problem.

the same thing happened with my uncle, peter.  addictions, too, had plagued him and caused him to spiral out of control and make life decisions that were destructive.  God showed up to him in a powerful way and delivered him from his slavery to substance abuse as well.

both these men call the north end of halifax home and they both have a huge heart for the addicts in their community.

the director of the cottage just gave us the big OK to start a recovery group in the new year.  with the leading of God and behind the incredible testimonies of redemption from eddie and peter, i think this is going to be a powerful opportunity to see restorative justice done in our city.

all prayers and well wishes welcomed 🙂

thumbs-up

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slow down

things have been  pretty slow at hope lately.  we havent been seeing as many guests come in for meals as we normally do.  part of it is to be expected considering social assistance cheques came out last wednesday.  from my years of experience working on the front lines, a large portion of the street community disappears for a few days or a week after welfare cheques are issued.

it speaks to a few things:

one, drug addiction has many people in slavery.  we may not see the shackles and chains but they are there all the same.  its not all the typical street drugs you are probably thinking about, ie. crack, heroine, speed, meth, marijuana.  the number one addiction among the people i work with is that to prescription drugs/pharmaceuticals.

wasnt what you were expecting was it?

heres what gets my goat..

people get hurt and go to the doctor.  the hurt is causing the person to be in a significant amount of pain.  the doctor prescribes them a narcotic painkiller to help with the symptom – pain.  the person gets addicted to the ‘medicine’ and when they attempt to come off of it, the terrible pain convinces them to go back on it.

they are trapped.

i experienced a bit of that after my second knee surgery.  the ‘medicine’ i was taking caused my body to become dependant on it and, when i attempted to come off of it, gave me a pain worse than that of my swollen knee.  fortunately for me i had safeguards around me.  i had a mother who knew enough to ask consistently about my usage.  i had a doctor who wasnt in the pocket of drug companies, ie. he didnt push drugs as a remedy but as temporary help.  i also had a coach that would check up on me.

i was fortunate because theres no telling what kind of addiction i could have developed and still be mired in.

theres a lot of people who arent as fortunate.

when the doctors stop administering the drugs, people will find others way to get them.  theres really two choices – theft or street purchases.  digging ones self out of the rabbit hole is a pretty difficult at this point.  paychecks start getting gobbled up by your addiction.  the addiction starts affecting your job and eventually you lose it.  now on social assistance, you have little money to spend on your addiction so you turn to whatever means to make the pain go away.  crime often follows along with police officers, lawyers, judges, jail cells and probation officers.

welcome to the streets.

this is what life looks like for too many people.

addiction doesnt care if youre lazy or motivated, good or bad, educated or uneducated, rich or poor.  it will take you whether your skin color is black, white, purple or green.  addiction doesnt care about your variables.  it cares about being fed.

so for the first couples days after the cheques come out, peoples bellies go empty while their addiction gets to feast.  and feast it does..

now, if we had doctors who werent paid by drug companies to push their drugs more liberally than they would normally be inclined to, would we have as large a problem?  certainly not.  are greedy doctors and drug companies our only problem?  indeed a large one but not the whole picture.

see, i think the larger problem lies with the way the war on drugs is handled.   i believe that retributive justice is counterproductive and harmful to our society, while restorative justice repairs whats been broken. im frustrated with punitive steps to bring about justice.  its mechanical, lifeless and dehumanizing.  does it have a place in society?  yes, it does because some crimes require people spending significant amount of time away from society, ie. murder and sexual assault.  but for the most part, punitive justice does more to harm individuals and communities than help.

what if instead of punishing people harshly through the criminal justice system, we allowed crime control to rest primarily with the community?    what if instead of a person taking punishment for a crime they committed, they took responsibility and action to repair the harm inflicted?    what if instead of punishing community members and thus communities (by extension), we allowed communities to be the facilitators of a restorative justice?

a justice that sought the restoration of all parties involved.  thats the kind of justice that make us whole again.

all of us.

/end of idealistic rant

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out of the cold..

 

i cant seem to find the words lately to write. i know theyre there but getting them down on to some paper or a screen seems like a battle. for someone who needs to write (it may be the only medication available for my type of insanity) this is a rather unfortunate predicament. even these words seem forced and unnatural. i can only assume my heart and mind have heavier things weighing on them than my need to write. or maybe my insanity just needs more attention.

contrary to what i might be telling myself, working 3 jobs may be catching up with me. ive gotten ‘ you look tired’ more lately than i care to admit. i like to just think it has to do with being awake when its dark and sleeping through the sun. am i just lying to myself? probably. dad told me hes going to send me something for my sleep apnea so im praying that fixes my faded exterior a bit. if not, maybe i need to reorganize.

last night was a tough wrap up to 3 shift stretch of graveyards at the out of the cold shelter. the shelter is an emergency space for people unable to access other housing or shelter space in the city. because of limited space and liability issues, we’re only able to accommodate 15 people a night, even though we have space for many more. last night i had to deny 5 men who were trying to escape the rapidly dropping temperature, but not before filling their pockets full of food, their bags full of blankets and warm clothes, and tim hortons cards so they could sit somewhere warm for a while. to say there arent enough beds in this city for the homeless is an understatement. a gross understatement. im not sure what we’re going to do when january comes and the real cold temperatures hit. when do peoples lives become more important than liabilities?

jason came by a few times trying to access the shelter. him and i have been hanging out a lot lately while im at work. the cocktail of medication drugs hes prescribed for his schizophrenia doesnt allow him to sleep very long, or so he tells me. i like to think its because i make a mean cup of coffee. either way, jason and i have become fast friends. he tells me everything i ever wanted to know about music (and then some!) and i keep the coffee flowing. its a good relationship. when he tried to access the third time, he looked tired, cold and hungry. i parked him in one of the beat up old sofa chairs for a minute while i grabbed some food and coffee to warm him back up. he was snoring by the time i came back. i asked my volunteer staff, john, if he had a problem with ‘bending’ some rules. he didnt and neither did i. jason stayed.

daryl, who suffers from a similar metal illness, woke up looking for some coffee and conversation. probably the smartest intellect ive met on the streets and quite possibly ever.  no exaggeration!  his ideas on life and questions concerning everything else associated with it made me think harder than i cared to at 5 in the morning but it was refreshing nonetheless. im still trying to wrap my mind around the zero-gravity black hole theory he was trying to explain to me. hopefully ill have an answer for him when we talk next.

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whats it gonna take?

we humans can be incredibly compassionate beings, capable of incredible love. we’ve all heard stories. we’ve all heard something that made us a bit fuzzy on the inside (is that just me?). music and movies need only to use one theme to create huge industries – love. cant really seem to escape its influence on us. tina turners big question was “whats love gotta do with it? its safe to say ‘everything’. love is the engine that drives most of our engines. its the leading motivator, the greatest emotion and an even greater gift.

yet being capable of such an amazing feat doesnt necessarily mean it will always be used. or used appropriatley. sometimes we can chose to be the complete opposite. we can choose to be selfish people who think mostly about themselves. we can ignore the problems of others in order to live our comfortable lives. but how comfortable can someone get who knows how bad their neighbour is suffering.. and do nothing about it? do we bury our guilt or just feel none?

theres a big problem in the eastside of vancouvers downtown district. its a giant social problem with no easy fixes. drugs and crime litter the hastings corners and alleys. drunks and addicts stumble the streets. people in need of medical help, both mental and physical, walk alone. historically the area has been in trouble since the beginning. not two months incorporated, the great vancouver fire happened in the summer of 1886. it wiped out everything except a few buildings. lots of lives lost. lots of homes lost. poverty was the gift awarded to vancouver in its first year. if you drive down east hastings on your way to stanley park, youre bound to see that its “a gift that keeps on giving”. poverty is still very much there. girls not old enough to graduate highschool turning ‘tricks’ to feed their drug addictions. young men robbing the elderly to to feed their crack habits.

unless we start addressing the root causes, we’re grasping at straws. unless we begin to act, its just going to get worse.. and worse.

unless we rediscover that old adage “love your neighbour”, many more people are going to be lost.  lost to addiction lost to prostitution. lost to mental illness. lost in their society by their society.

daughters. sons. fathers. sisters. grandmothers. our neighbours.  do we ignore their plight and continue on our way? or do we help?

it was mae west that said, “love conquers all things except toothaches and poverty”.

itd be great to prove her wrong.

so whats it gonna take?

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suicide is a thief

 

how do you convince someone that ending their own life is the wrong decision? that their life is worth living?

at my job i get to know a lot of people who have been broken by something in their life. they have deep wounds and hurts, often masked by excessive drug use and risky behavior. its tough stuff to deal with. i dont mean to come across so casual by using the word ‘stuff’ in reference to such a heavy issue. i know how serious suicide is. ive had to deal with suicide in my life. it has killed family and friends. its stolen people i love. suicide is the thief. maybe using ‘stuff’ is my styled euphemism to keep the bad imagery from invading my mind and having to deal with its reality.

next to overdoses, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the downtown eastside where i work. i could argue that drug addiction leading to overdoses are a slow suicide (and im sure many would agree) but for the sake of simplicity ill leave them in their separate places. each year roughly 500 people in BC take their own life. 500 families are affected. hundreds of communities affected. poverty, drug abuse, sexual exploitation, depression, mental illness and scarred hearts from past traumas are some of the major problems that lead people to such an extreme decision. in the downtown eastside, its usually not a matter of either or but how many of the above.

the people on hastings have been abandoned. forgotten to the streets of old vancouver.

left to hide in alleys to get their fix, stand in cold lines for food and die without remembrance. is it any wonder why…

i dont think i need to finish that sentence. we all get it.

so my friend ashley pushed me the other day at work. surprised me. first violent action directed towards me since ive been at the church. ive been inadvertently hit while breaking up fights but nothing worth fussing about. the push came from the most unlikely place. ashley is a native brother of mine (ya, thats right… my ancestors shot bows and arrows) that struggles with a heavy drinking problem. i unfortunately dont see him sober too often. he spends most of his waking hours drinking and being drunk. numbing himself his wounds from the past. the other night was no different. what was different was his behavior towards me. when i stepped into separate two other gentlemen from fighting, ashley stepped in as well. he felt that i had been ignoring him, which i hadnt, and he was very angry with me. so angry that he wanted to fight me. so he pushed me. twice. it took me a few minutes to convince him that he didnt really want to fight me. i asked him if he’s like to sit down and talk about it. he did. as we sat and talked he apologized for his actions and broke down to me. he expressed to me that he hated what his life had become. he knew that he needed to get into a treatment center or else he would kill himself drinking, but in the same breath told me he didnt seem to care if he killed himself. he thought about killing himself instead of living like he currently was. i told him that he wasnt allowed. i told him that he has to go to treatment and get better so we could go fishing. he seemed to like that idea. i got on the phone and called the treatment center access line. closed. had to call back the next day during office hours. i told ashley and he promised to call the next day. now i know theres a slim chance he will. the conversation will probably be a lost memory of his due to the booze and the damage that years of hard drinking has done to his brain. if he doesnt then ill just have to drag him down to the treatment center myself.

im not willing to let suicide steal another one, especially another friend of mine.

but how do i stop it?

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