Homelessness, addiction, and recovery
By Colten Kamlade, Staff reporter
An event in Coquitlam is aiming to educate people on the struggles of living on the streets.
Stories from the Street is a program that gives people the chance to understand homelessness. The Coquitlam Public Library hosted the event on October 12. Three speakers told their stories of life on the streets and what turned their lives around.
“I came from a fairly good upper-middle-class family. You know, military family, my mom worked in a hospital,” said Bruce Conlan, the first speaker of the night. “I grew up in a little farming community. So I was surrounded by a lot of stuff you wouldn’t think somebody would be able to transition into a negative type of lifestyle.”
Conlan’s childhood, however, was not everything it appeared to be.
“The outside picture of the home I grew up in looked good, it looked like it should for a middle-class setting, you know, everything was in place, but then inside that picture there was a lot of chaos,” he said. “My dad, he was a military guy and then became a police officer, and there was a lot of stress involved, and in that time period there was a lot of drinking involved, to cope.”
“He would drink, and there was a lot of abusive and violent moments,” Conlan said. “I got the brunt of the violence.”
This was the beginning of Conlan’s journey onto the streets.
“I started to leave the house for longer and longer periods of time,” he said. “So I started to discover pieces of the world further and further away from my home and I started to meet other kids who were getting into trouble.”
When asked about the turning point in his life, Conlan said that two cops found him in an alley one day, and they told him “‘we come across a lot of people who have died … we can tell you the way you look right now, if you don’t stop or get help or something changes, within a week to ten days we’re going to find you dead.’”
Conlan now helps others deal with addiction and mental trauma.
Donna Wollf, the second speaker of the night, also grew up in a dysfunctional household.
“I grew up in a family where I wasn’t wanted, and I was told that every single day, and when I got old enough to figure out how to get out, I did get out. So, I left home. I ran away at thirteen,” she said.
It wasn’t until Wollf became pregnant at the age of 17 that she got off the streets. Many years later, she found herself homeless again, but this time for less than a year.
Sandra McRae said that she felt her story was a combination of Donna’s and Bruce’s.
“I was born and raised by my mom. My dad left when I was young, I was in grade one. He was an alcoholic. [My mom] worked two jobs. There was me and my brother at home. I became just a horrible little girl in elementary school,” she said.
Although McRae was not alone in the house, her older brother had a negative influence on her.
“[He] got me to smoke weed and cigarettes,” she said. “I hung out with a bad group that was in and out of jail.”
She continued down that road and ended up on the streets. It wasn’t until she was introduced to RainCity Housing and Support Society, a homeless advocacy charity that helped organize the Stories from the Street event, that she was able to get clean and get a home.
Sandy Burpee, the chair of the Tri-Cities homelessness and housing task group and the moderator for the night, said “it’s really important to have events like this that make us aware … to see and hear people who are presenting tonight, to be able to look inside the turbulent times they experienced and realize in those times the people you see here tonight were always inside.”
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how far down you might be,” Wollf said.