Shortly after we left on our walk this evening Lola and I met a lovely young man named Cheyenne. We chatted about life on the streets and how tough it can be.
I stopped to ask how he was doing as it was obvious that he didn’t feel well. He had a cold and was struggling to keep warm. He had stashed away some bedding in his little hideaway and was about to go sorting through a dumpster to see what he could find to sell.
He said “I’m an iv drug user. People don’t understand opioid addiction. They run across the street when they see a shopping cart coming and think we’re going to hurt them. They won’t even look at us. We’re just people. No one ever talks to us. They just treat us like garbage. We’re disposable.
He shared a thought that he had about how it might be the government’s way of controlling population. He was aware that this sounded harsh and wanted to be sure that I understood it from his point of view. I could see from Cheyenne’s perspective where it might feel like that. His words “It’s like we’re being culled, like the wolves. I’ve lost so many friends”.
He gets called names all the time. He told me a story about one day not too long ago he was sorting through a trash bin and a lady yelled out her door “hey trash panda – get outta there – leave the garbage alone” He said he told her he was only wanting to sort through it to see if there was something he could sell because he needed money. ”I asked her to give me 45 minutes and I would be done and leave. She wanted no part of this.” He told her this is why people steal. That by not allowing people to sort through the garbage she was making the problem worse. She asked if he was threatening her. He responded no, that he was only trying to help her understand. People who use opioids aren’t bad people, they just need to be able to make money to buy their drugs.
His father told him he will never be given more than he can handle. He knew his father was right. He was indigenous and still had very strong spiritual beliefs. I could tell that he was connected to something far greater than himself.
He said that he understood both sides. That he understood how it must be hard for people who aren’t addicts to have compassion for the ones that are because it looks like they just don’t want to work, like they are lazy. He gets that people might feel like they don’t want to support drug addicts and might not like them. He could see their side.
He had compassion for the other side.
He showed me the scars on his chest from when he almost died recently. A long scar down the centre of his chest and several shorter ones along where his lungs would lie under the ribs. They had to drain fluid from his heart and lungs as the heavy metals and other substances like fentanyl, that are mixed with his drugs, build up in his system over time. His surgeon told him that he doesn’t get enough food and sleep to give his body time to heal, to clear out the toxins.
I asked if they released him to the streets or if he had somewhere to go after his surgery. He said that he stayed in a shelter. They knew him there so he was allowed to stay until he got stronger. He said, it’s not always like that. Some people just get put in a cab and dropped off down town.
He had tears in his eyes and said thank you for stopping by. We shook hands and I thanked him for sharing his story with me.
Take good care Cheyenne. I hope you have a restful night and that life gets easier for you. We all deserve a good life.