He turned up outside the church a year ago February. Unlike most homeless sleepers, he wasn’t eager to move when we activated the back door for the day’s visitors. We’d encourage movement (with an offer of coffee and a washroom to clean up in) and, eventually, he’d move on for the day.
We went to Timmies one night. I heard of his time in jail and the probation order that kept him confined to Duncan. His inability to use the shelter relating to his inability to hold his temper in close quarters with temperamental people. He’d been banned and didn’t seem eager to meet ‘their rules’ to return.
“I’m a human being aren’t I? Shouldn’t I be able to have a warm place to sleep? Wouldn’t let a dog stay out, would they? Why me?”
I had no answer. I knew he was right and I knew he wouldn’t be sleeping in the church either.
Released from prison clean and sober, he was determined to stay that way. Attending every meeting in town, he enrolled at Global Vocational, looking for any work available. No luck so far. Hard to find a job without minutes on your phone, no address, no place to launder your clothes or shower.
I called around, most agencies knew him. Found him to be volatile, an explosion waiting to happen. Watching as the cement bed and cold air accommodations took the will from him. All agreeing that sooner or later he’d lose it and end up back in jail. Hoping he wouldn’t harm someone in the process.
I think he lasted two or three months before using again. Masking the pain, but not the anger. That ramped up. I had to call 911 one day, when he, enforcing his will on the folk in the kitchen, became too scary to leave in the building. I don’t think he believed I’d do it. When I did he left us, his opinion echoing back along the street. Some kind of church we were.
I saw him a bit in the fall, here and there in town, sometimes at the dinners held in our church. Hoodie pulled far over his head, anger radiating.
He didn’t talk to me anymore.
Around Christmas he sent a card to a friend. From prison. Thanking her for the kindness she’d shown him, saying he hoped he’d be back to see her one day. That he felt like he belonged, for once, in one part of Duncan.
We hoped he’d find another place. A better place. A place with a home he could afford on the $725.00 a month allocated to him on his release from prison. A place where he could start fresh. Making it through the programs, the anger, and the loathing.
I was speaking of him with another friend last week. Someone working in the pathways of addiction, response, support and recovery. Someone who knew him, understood the issues facing him and the hapless agencies that also knew him and were unable to respond. His plight was not a-typical.
We shook our heads over ‘the system’ willingly spending $100,000.00 a year, or more, to incarcerate a human being, while refusing, in righteous indignation, to provide the rudimentary housing and support that could turn the page for them. At a far lower price. The conversation returned to him.
“Did you hear?” She asked, “he killed himself in prison, just after Christmas.”
Something inside of me groaned.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Keith Simmonds is in ministry at Duncan United Church, where folk are engaged in seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with the Creator. He blogs at keithsimmonds.ca.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE