More than just a number Their struggles... Their stories

"I've been a drug addict pretty much since I was 20"

Erik Christiansen by the numbers is part of the 18 per cent of homeless who attribute addiction as the cause of their situation.

“Mine’s addiction, crystal meth,” he said. “My ex was an alcoholic. To fit with her I drank a lot, and when I drank...

“I’ve been a drug addict pretty much since I was 20.”

Christiansen went to culinary school and as soon as he hit restaurant work he found cocaine.

“That doesn’t make us bad, that doesn’t make us thieves or criminals just because we have an addiction,” he said. “Sometimes the only way to survive out here is to drown it a little bit.”

He’s been clean for seven- and five-year periods in the past, but both times he’s fallen back into the habit because of separation from his children.

The 42-year-old said he uses drugs to deal with the depression and anxiety he feels, not just because of missing his kids, but also the discrimination he feels.

“It helps you deal with the negative looks and the whispering,” Christiansen said. “It’s hard, and I don’t want to see it or hear it so I just medicate.”

"I try to care for my daughter more than anything else."

Served with an eviction notice early in December, Ed Finney thought he would have to spend Christmas with his wife and daughter in a shelter.

The family has since received their income assistance and barely managed to stay in their apartment, but they were close to joining the seven per cent of Chilliwack’s homeless population who say they were evicted.

“We don’t want to be on the system,” said Finney. “We’d rather be working full-time somewhere but it’s hard out there.”

He had been looking for almost a year when he finally got some part-time work at a gas station, and his wife is helping make ends meet with a housekeeping job.

Finney has experience working in many capacities at a variety of jobs, but said the lack of a vehicle is a major obstacle to finding work.

He and his family came back to Chilliwack after a job in Valemount didn’t pan out.

Finney does not want to become part of the 27 per cent of homeless who have inadequate income for rent.

“We’ve got a daughter, we’re not going to put her on the street,” he said. “I try to care for my daughter more than anything else.”

"I don't gamble to win, I gamble to lose."

Billy Mays agrees with the 14 per cent of homeless people surveyed who say they are not housed because rent is too high.

“We get $375 to pay rent which is ridiculous,” Mays said. “There is nothing out there for $375.”

The artist got a room at Chilliwack Health and Housing Centre this year where his cheque is sure to go directly to covering his room, avoiding it’s usual short life.

“I’m a gambler so cheque day comes, I take my cheque, I go and make my deposit on the casino for that month,” Mays said. “And the money’s gone the next day. I don’t have coffee money.”

It’s a vicious cycle, but one that’s difficult to escape with Mays being bi-polar.

“It’s hard to get settled anywhere,” he said. “You just want to keep moving on and running away from yourself.”

Mays is hoping being removed from survival mode will get his carving, sculpting and painting back to the state where he’s producing again.

It’s been a long time on the streets, and he’s getting tired.

The five years he’s been homeless since his divorce have been full of what Mays calls “self-sabotage.”

“I don’t gamble to win, I gamble to lose.”

"You're packing your whole household in one bag."

When he was young, Victor Joe never really had a mother or father figure. And even now, he is in the 14 per cent who are on the streets because of family breakdown.

Rejected by them, he manages his back injury alone with the help of medication and alcohol.

“Right now I’m not getting the proper medication for my back, so I’m looking for substitutes on the streets,” Joe said. “You’ve got to figure the substitutes are not good things.”

But he needs something to help with his bad vertebrae.

“I go crazy when the pain gets too much,” said the 49-year-old.

Sober for the 20 years prior, Joe fell off the wagon when he signed the papers for disability and realized he was no longer able to work.

Though he’s still drinking he managed to quit for a month and a half late last year, but it’s not easy to stay sober.

“Your payday comes and you run into the wrong person—instigators, you know?”

Joe said rent prices are too high and landlords discriminate against him for being homeless and aboriginal.

“I try to keep myself tidy, but you’re packing your whole household in one bag right?”

Updates since the original printing of the article:

My name is Al and I am Victor Joe's younger brother. We are a blended family with 6 boys and 2 girls, I am the youngest at 45 years old (birthday March 28). Our mother is going to be 75 years young this October.

First of all, It is good to see my brother is still ok and he chose his own path of drugs and alcohol. And our family did try to help him but he chose the addictions over the help. He first lived in our grandparents' two storey home by himself which he neglected and was evicted due to illegal activity. Then I personally drove him to his father's home in Mt. Currie where he fought with is dad. Moved to his aunt's and began to drink quite a bit. The following summer he moved into our grand aunt's home where he continued to drink and abused his welcome. From there he moved to our mother's small rancher where she lived with her latest husband. He drank and abused drugs until my mother could not handle his actions any more. He then moved to our older sister's home where she cares for her disabled adult son. And was told to leave after he broke her living room window in a drunken rage and almost got sister and family evicted. We are a first nation's family and we do not turn our backs on any member of our family. But as adults, we make our own choices and have to live with our decisions.

My mother was tremendously hurt by my brother's words of our family not being there for him.

We wish the best for my brother and wish he will find the help he needs. And then come back to us.

Al Marchand

Created By
Greg Laychak
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Story and photos by Greg Laychak

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