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Homeless shelter will be missed
Bart Phillips is a solid-looking guy who doesn't have the thin, haggard look of a heroin addict.
But that was what he was before he walked into the welcoming arms of volunteers and homeless advocates at a Tri-City shelter four years ago.
And, thanks to that fortuitous meeting, Phillips is now a Vancouver Career College graduate employed as a Hope for Freedom Society recovery worker. He has a home and has been reunited with his two teenage daughters.
Life is good, Phillips says.
Four years ago, when he walked into one of the temporary shelters — this one located in Port Coquitlam — things weren't looking as rosy. The police had impounded the uninsured truck he and his wife were using to collect scrap metal and he was due for a stint in jail for impaired charges.
It was a long road to get to that shelter and Phillips isn't sure whether a higher power was involved or just a bit of good luck after many years of misfortune and poor life choices.
Ten years ago, he shot his foot off in a drunken mishap with a gun. He walks with a slight limp today and his foot is a prothesis.
But it wasn't the missing foot that set him on a downward spiral but an addiction to morphine, alcohol and, finally heroin.
"I just didn't care any more," he said.
His vehicle was gone and after several weeks in the bushes under a tarp, he was persuaded to venture onto a bus and to the temporary shelter.
It changed his mind about life and his sense of purpose. "That shelter saved us," he said, describing how it appeared to him as a crack of light in an otherwise dark world.
"All I saw was people cared and were willing to help us."
He did his time at North Fraser Pre-Trial Centre and called the Hope for Freedom Society upon his release, the same group than ran the shelter he briefly called home.
Recovery workers arrived in a white van to pick him up. That was four years ago. "I just stayed there," he said. "I found a passion caring for people who suffered the way I did."
His wife, though, died of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease from smoking heroin before she could be convinced to join him in recovery.
He thanks the shelter and HFFS workers for helping him turn his life around and is devastated to learn the shelter has been cancelled for this year. "There is so many successes from the shelter… if the community can get together and understand that people are being managed at the shelter and If I can help personally," he says.
Otherwise there will be more people like him wandering the streets — but this time with no help and no way out of their situation.