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

addictionsHomelessSalmon Arm

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

Just Posted

The Keremeos Grist Mill and Gards is preparing for another season of their Pantry Share program, distributing monthly packages with preserves like the one taken in the photo above. (Grist Mill Facebook)
Shares in heritage community garden program go on sale

The Grist Mill and Gardens in Keremeos is bringing back its Pantry Share for 2021

Expect cold weather and snow over the weekend. (Submitted photo)
Prepare for subzero weekend in South Okanagan

Expect some snow to start falling Saturday night and into Sunday

Skaha Middle School
Arrest made in indecent acts near Penticton schools

A 32-year-old man was arrested and released on strict conditions, say police

Flooding has become a reality for many communities in the Okanagan Valley as the region faces more extreme weather storms, blamed on the impact of climate change. (File photo)
Okanagan high target for spring flooding

Higher snowpack and mild winter precipitation levels raise concerns for Canada’s insurance industry

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

(Hal Brindley - Dreamstime)
Enderby farmers caught between coyotes and bylaw tickets

The Smith family is stuck in a Catch-22 between protecting their livestock and incurring noise complaints

A COVID-19 exposure has been confirmed at Black Mountain Elementary in Kelowna Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Google Image)
Another COVID-19 exposure confirmed at Kelowna school

Interior Health confirmed an exposure at Black Mountain Elementary School Saturday

Members of BCEHS Station 343 in Lake Country receive a donation of treats and wine from the community in December. (Contributed)
‘Unexpected and heartwarming’: Okanagan community supports paramedics

Cards, discounts, treats, more given to Lake Country paramedics in sign of support

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

The North Okanagan Naturalists' Club completed its annual swan and eagle counts Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. (Claude Rioux - NONC photo)
North Okanagan bird count shows decrease in swan and eagle numbers

Trumpeter swans were down 61 per cent from last year’s count; eagles down 14 per cent

Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis has served as the band’s chief since his first of six electoral wins in 1991. (File photo)
Okanagan Indian Band seeks nominations for upcoming election

A new OKIB chief and council will be elected March 30, 2021

Lake Country firefighters helped deliver a healthy newborn baby Thursday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Pixabay)
Lake Country firefighters help deliver baby boy

Firefighters from the Winfield hall assisted with the birth of a healthy newborn Thursday morning

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

Most Read