John Lee, 28, who lives in a makeshift shelter at the outskirts of Salmon Arm, eats his Christmas dinner on Dec. 25, 2020 while he talks about his life and what could have made a difference in his past. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

John Lee, 28, who lives in a makeshift shelter at the outskirts of Salmon Arm, eats his Christmas dinner on Dec. 25, 2020 while he talks about his life and what could have made a difference in his past. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Freezing to death seen sometimes as welcome option for Salmon Arm man

Fighting drug addiction, living rough through cold winter make survival a struggle

“Sometimes I hope I freeze to death, sometimes I don’t. You know what I mean?”

With this pronouncement, John Lee’s voice falters with emotion.

Lee is 28. This was Christmas Day 2020 and he was outside the Salvation Army Lighthouse Shelter near Salmon Arm’s McGuire Lake.

He had come to pick up a turkey dinner being provided in a take-out container due to the pandemic.

Before a staff person gave him his food, she brought out some large band-aids.

His hands, dirty from living rough, were cracked in multiple places. In a poignant moment of tenderness that contrasted the harshness of his situation, the young man watched as this relative stranger carefully put band-aids on his damaged skin.

Lee said he lives near others on the outskirts of town in an A-frame type tent he fashioned, guided by his early training as a cadet.

“It holds heat, it’s dry,” he said. “I’m doing things properly that way, as best I can.”

Read more: Freezing cold emphasizes need for drop-in centre for Salmon Arm’s homeless

Read more: Panhandling bylaw: Homeless man thinks it should target only aggressive panhandlers

He goes to the food bank when it’s open.

“Until you’re homeless, you don’t realize how hungry you really are without food. You go through it really quickly.”

Lee has a brother who lives in Boston and will mobile load Tim Hortons for him so he can get something to eat. Lee goes there in the mornings to charge his phone. He said people who are homeless aren’t allowed to sit there longer than 15 minutes anymore.

It’s difficult to wash properly, he said, adding public bathrooms are locked up at night, and many times they are strewn with hypodermic needles. He quickly added he is not free from addictions, but the needles are terrible.

“It’s gross. I hate it and it’s scary as well. That’s why I usually carry a stick with me for sorting bottles and cans and stuff.”

Read more: Five years ago, homeless man ‘had everything’

Read more: Video shows altercation between Salmon Arm police officer and homeless couple

Lee said he was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome when he was 12 and suffers from high anxiety.

But many of his current problems stem from when he was 22, he said. While working, he fell off scaffolding, resulting in serious injuries. His voice catches again when remembering the man who saved him, breaking his own ankle while doing so.

Lee was put on pain killers for an extended length of time, Dilaudid or hydromorphone.

What turned out to be the last time he went to renew his prescription, he was told, no more. But by then he was well into an addiction and was faced with excruciating withdrawals. He sought relief in illegal drugs.

He said decriminalization of drugs could be a solution, so people don’t have to commit crimes to survive. It might have made a difference for him.

“Well, back in the day, it would have. I wouldn’t have ended up doing anything wrong. I wouldn’t have ended up in prison, which is many, many years ago now. I wouldn’t have had to. I would have had the resources or a place to go where I could just do it. You would have the people there to help you stop doing it, as well as the people there to make sure you’re doing it safe. Then you’d be educated enough to know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Read more: Need for housing in Salmon Arm climbs while units being constructed

Read more: It’s getting tougher in Salmon Arm to be a person with no housing

Lee said he did manage to do well for a few years.

“I had a fiancé,” he said, tears welling. “The only person who ever cared about me since Mom left…”

He said he was going to lose their rental home and he decided the only way to make ends meet was to sell dope.

“I made a mistake and I lost her. I f—-ed up, I take that.”

Lee has lived rough in Sicamous, where he contends homelessness was not acknowledged, as well as at a shelter in Vernon. He said although the staff at the shelter were very good, the easy access to drugs there did not help him.

Lee mourns his loss of family connections.

He speaks highly of his mother but said he hasn’t seen her in six years and rarely talks to her. His father died from kidney disease and he blames himself for not donating his own kidney. Two weeks later his other brother was beaten to death in New Brunswick, he said, his voice quaking. Both his uncles were killed in a car accident, and his grandparents died shortly after from natural causes.

“I’m sorry but I don’t really have anyone to do good for anymore.

“Now my life is a battle between staying clean and doing the right thing and saving money, which is damn near impossible. It’s always an uphill battle that you don’t have anything to help yourself climb with.”


marthawickett@saobserver.net
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

#Salmon ArmaddictionsHomeless

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Ladybug Landing Child Care Centre in Salmon Arm remains open as one person who was at the facility tested positive for COVID-19. (Lachlan Labere/Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm daycare owner upset by rumours related to positive COVID-19 test

Ladybug Landing’s Leigh-Anne Chapman impressed by response from Interior Health

Police are seeking further witnesses after an elderly woman who was struck by a vehicle in Salmon Arm succumbed to her injuries. (File Photo)
Salmon Arm pedestrian dies after being hit by truck along Highway 1

Collision took place on Jan. 15 in downtown Salmon Arm, police looking for witnesses

Responding to recent cases of COVID-19 confirmed at Shuswap schools, School District 83 Superintendent Peter Jory has asked staff and the public to be vigilant when it comes to the practice of good behaviours that help prevent the virus’ spread. (File photo)
COVID-19: North Okanagan-Shuswap school communities asked be vigilant

Superintendent Peter Jory responds to increasing COVID-19 numbers at schools.

In a Jan. 18 notice, Interior Health and Salmon Arm West Elementary confirmed a member of the school community tested positive for COVID-19 and, due to a possible transmission, advised students who ride School District 83's Monkey Bus be monitored for symptoms of the virus. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
COVID-19 case reported at Salmon Arm West Elementary

Interior Health advises students who ride Monkey Bus be monitored for symptoms

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

A couple living at the Summerland Waterfront Resort is trying to sell their unit because of strata changes which will require them to pay significantly higher strata fees or have their unit included in the resort’s rental pool (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Couple living at Summerland resort facing increases

Permanent residents of Summerland Waterfront Resort told fees will more than double

(Big White Ski Resort)
28 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

More than 200 cases have been identified since the cluster was announced

A cow moose wanders around the Silver Star Elementary School neighbourhood Tuesday, Jan. 19. (Contributed)
Moose chases two people near North Okanagan school

Conservation and dog control attending to the situation

The sale of the Kirschner Mountain Development for $22M marks the largest in Realtor history, in the Okanagan. (Contributed)
Kelowna mountain development sold for $22M

The sale of the 640-acre Kirschner Mountain development has made the history books

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Most Read