GUEST COLUMN

Michael B. is a Kelowna resident. Due to the nature and sensitivity of this guest column, his full name has been omitted due to privacy and safety concerns.

Hi. My name is Michael, and this letter will probably not be too popular, but here it goes. I have been homeless a lot during my life. From Vancouver to Montreal and everywhere in between, I have slept on streets, in shelters, squats, cardboard boxes, train cars. I even slept in the little alley beside the Starbucks in downtown Kelowna for a while ... anywhere I could. 

I suffered from addiction, PTSD, severe anxiety, ADHD and, worst of all, being so far deep into victimhood it was impossible for me to do anything for myself. I blamed everyone for where I was in life, and I expected everyone, except for myself, to fix my world. 

It is true being raped by a next door neighbour, having family friends molest me in various ways, growing up in a home with addiction, a mother almost dying from cancer and in the hospital away from me for months, and a slough of other things during my adolescence didn’t set me up for success, but by the time I became an adult, there was absolutely no reason I couldn’t have dealt with all of these things, as I knew I should have the whole time, instead of sitting and dwelling on them. 

Instead, I went full bore into a life of substance abuse. Why? Simply, that was the easiest thing to do. 

Here is an unpopular truth; I had so many people try to help me: family, friends, strangers, church organizations, counsellors, so many people. But, all it did was push me further into being a victim. The sincere help that people offered only made me feel sorrier for myself. It made me feel even more so that because other people caused my suffering, that other people should fix it. It made me complacent in my self destructive behaviour. I loved the attention, so of course I was always on the look out for someone new to feel sorry for me. 

The people who tried to help me only hurt me. 

One day, after I had forced everyone away, I was sitting by myself and I had the most important realization of my life, that if I didn’t do something to change my life, that if I didn’t start busting my butt to make my world better, that no one would ever love me honestly, not even myself. 

That was five years ago. Since then, without one hand out and very little help, I completely changed everything about myself. Five years ago, I had nothing. I worked so hard to do everything I could possibly think of to make my life a little happier. I made the hard decisions, and I stuck with them. I never stopped being strong. I learned how to deal with my emotional stress and horrible past memories. I fought through every single time I didn’t even think I could handle it anymore and just wanted to leave this life. I fought. 

My life isn’t perfect today, I got old without remembering most of my days, I fight with depression and isolation and recurring thoughts of suicide, I’ll never be able to afford a lot in life as I’m so far behind where I see others at who are my age, but all of that is overshadowed by how much I amaze myself. 

I missed out on a lot in life, but at least I’m not missing out on life anymore. 

So, the unpopular truth about the homeless population, they can change if they want to. Giving them handouts isn’t going to help. It may ease their journey, but in the long run, as all this help did myself, it will only harm them. People have to learn to stand on their own. People have to heal themselves. It is a hard line, compassion and empathy are beautiful things, but we have to know when to draw the line. 

I don’t know what is the right course of action here, but I can see nothing is getting better. I agree with the tent city, I have lived in one before in Toronto, but maybe the city should charge the ones who want to stay there $1-2 a day for the service and allow them to keep their tents up. They could supply a few porta-potties and a dumpster to help keep waste to a minimum with the cost coming out of this money. 

Everyone has a choice. A person can choose to feel sorry for themselves, or they can choose to stand up and fight for himself/herself. No one, absolutely no one, can make that choice for another.