Until a few years ago, the 53-year-old was constantly on the move, sleeping on the couches of friends and acquaintances. Everything he owned had to fit inside a duffle bag—clothes, work boots, a few tools, and that was it.
“You're always wondering where your next bed's going to be,” Mark says.
He isn't wondering now.
Mark has spent the last month in a permanent home, a room at a housing complex run by the Lions Club.
Getting there required some help from the folks at The Salvation Army's Gateway of Hope. Mark spent the previous year in their long-term transitional housing wing, a facility designed to get people who have been homeless back into housing for good.
Mark grew up in Langley, finished high school and got into construction work, building barns in Abbotsford, B.C., and waterproofing high-rise buildings. It was good work, but too many paycheques started going to alcohol and drugs.
Though Mark kept working, eventually he didn't have anywhere to stay that was permanent. He moved from full-time jobs into casual day labour, which was less stable.
Sleeping on couches may be cheaper than renting, but money goes out quickly, too, for eating out and other expenses.
“I Want to Work”
Mark began coming to the Gateway of Hope shelter about five years ago, but he was in and out frequently, finding another couch to stay on, then returning to the Gateway. Eventually, he moved up to the transitional housing program and stayed for about a year.
Mark managed to get work and moved in with a roommate. But that situation ended when he was hit with health issues and lost his job. He was soon back at the shelter.
His health concerns are so serious, he can no longer go back to construction work. He's had three strokes, has a stent in his heart and a broken disk in his back.
“I want to work,” he says immediately after talking about his injuries.
A Good Place
This time, with his new home at the complex, Mark is hoping he's found a stable place he can call his own. He's slowly collecting some furniture and personal possessions, things he hasn't owned in many years. He's got a microwave, a couch and is starting on the kit for his kitchen.
“It's a slow and steady process,” he says.
But having moved during the late summer, Mark is already enjoying privacy.
“Peace and quiet, nobody's moving around,” he says.
He's keeping busy by going back to the Gateway of Hope, this time to help others. He is working in the kitchen, helping with pickups and donations, and with the set-up for the Thursday coffee house.
“Mark's been a blessing to us at the Gateway of Hope,” says John Dewsbury, Mark's program advisor.
If not for his time at Gateway, Mark doesn't think he'd be in a good place now.
“I'd probably be out on the street or locked up in the hospital in a straitjacket,” he says.
He knows of other homeless people who have spent years without even a couch to crash on.
“I see a lot of people that are on the street, and they get used to it,” he says. “I didn't want that to happen to me.”
Reprinted from Langley Advance, November 5, 2015.