Jordan Wall, a 27-year-old man who has grown up around Regina and Saskatoon, has straightened himself up a lot in the past few months.
He still has slip-ups and does morphine occasionally, he said, but thanks to the Lighthouse he has been off cocaine for several months – no easy task for someone who was introduced to the highly addictive drug at the age of 12 by his father.
Since first getting hooked on cocaine, he has spent much of his life in and out of institutions, detox centres and shelters.
Things kept on that way for a while, with Wall selling drugs to support his habit and the dealing itself only compounding his problems.
“The big trouble is when I used to go buy an eight-ball or an ounce and I’d sit there and sell it, but then you’re thinking about weapons because you need to protect yourself,” said Wall. “It never ends well.”
He was forced to leave Regina after his home was taken over by two men who began selling cocaine to Wall’s clients, in return offering him syringes loaded with cocaine to feed his habit.
In the end, one of the men tried to kill him by stabbing him with a pair of scissors, puncturing his kidney.
He bled internally for five hours, eventually passing out on his front steps. Two of his customers saw him lying there and called the ambulance. He awoke in the hospital surrounded by police.
Wall left the hospital with a prescription for morphine and continued his partying.
It was an HIV diagnosis that really brought things into perspective. He contracted the virus in Saskatoon from a woman who formerly lived in the Lighthouse. She was a Ritalin addict, so the two would get together to inject the drug.
“I asked her, ‘Do you have clean needles?’ And she said, ‘Well, I just bleached them.’ So I said straight up, ‘Do you have anything? Because I don’t want to get anything. I already have (hepatitis C).’ And (she) said, ‘No,’ ”
One of the other residents soon notified him the woman was HIV positive. He went for testing in October and it came back positive.
“I really didn’t know what to think,” Wall said. “But I’m kind of realizing the fact that I need to completely change my lifestyle if I want to survive. I have to start dealing with this illness.”
Now he’s taking his antiviral medication for the HIV, and he takes his other prescription medication – Ritalin and clonazepam – as the doctor directed.
“But once in a while now, I do morphine when I’m in a lot of pain. But that’s mostly when my antivirals aren’t working good or I feel like I’m really sick. I’m trying to stop completely and ween myself off, but it’s a struggle, though, and it’s hard with having HIV.”
It doesn’t make Lighthouse general manager Jordon Cooper happy to hear Wall is still doing drugs, but he said he’s encouraged by the improvements Wall’s made recently, and slip-ups are part of the recovery process.
“This is a drug-free facility. We kick people out for doing drugs and alcohol. But at the same time, there are going to be slip-ups on the way to recovery,” Cooper said. “If people are going to be distributing or dealing, that I can’t tolerate.”
The Lighthouse assumes a trustee role over Wall’s social assistance money, so he has to get his money from staff, returning receipts for his expenses such as cigarettes or his phone bill. He credits this with helping him turn around his cocaine addiction.
“I need the help, because I can’t handle my own money. That’s why I quit cocaine, because I don’t have access to hundreds of dollars like I used to.”
Without the Lighthouse, Wall said he’d likely be dead.
“Definitely. I can honestly say that. It almost makes me cry, because if I went out on that street I’d get eaten up.
The end of January left the Lighthouse with one double room to fill. Imagine a hotel room with a front living room, bathroom in the middle, and then past that, a bedroom. Someone’s room becomes the living room bit and then their roommate gets the proper smaller bedroom. So the roommate in the bedroom part is always walking through the ‘living room’ bedroom to get to their room. We only have 4 of these rooms but they are the hardest to fill because we house the hard to house and that often means we house the ‘hard to be roommates with’ people as well.
Jordon called over to the local Salvation Army because he knew of two long-term clients there who were both quiet and got along with each other. Jordon said the one gentleman had been staying at the Salvation Army for 18 months. Two years of bad luck can really change people’s lives. When the two men realized they were going to get their own place they were over the moon. In fact Jordon had breakfast with one of them and they started to cry.
The one gentleman moved in yesterday and the second today. He had so much stuff! Two very full car loads, with plates, rugs, pictures frames, and even two versions of RISK! Our rooms are only hotel size so I was worried he won’t be able to fit it all in.
I also realized I’ve gotten weirdly used to people moving into the Lighthouse with very little. We provide everything from pillow and blankets, night tables, tvs, shower curtains, shampoo & conditioner, soap, towels, etc. because they often don’t have those things.
The Emergency Shelter clients also often arrive with very little. We had a lady arrive two weeks ago who was wearing a pair of shorts and had nothing to change into, in the middle of winter.
Another lady staying in our shelter had two huge duffle bags, plus a large backpack she kept with her at all times, and always wore bright red Ugg style boots. When the snow started to melt they became sopping wet. When we told her she would have to wait a day to use the dryer* she almost started to cry. All she had to wear on her feet were bright red soggy boots.
For both ladies we found something suitable from our clothing donation room. But basically their lack of a change of clothes kept them from being able to go outside, walk to the nearest store, or meet with their social worker who is only a block and a half away. And obviously forget about applying for a job or new apartment.
Having a room of one’s own and having things that are specially yours is important to everybody, whether they are living in poverty, have mental health or addiction issues, or other disabilities. I hope I remember that next time I’m hauling a new tenant’s stuff into their new home, no matter how much or how little they own.
*Laundry is free at the Lighthouse but we only have two washers and two dryers so tenants and shelter clients have to book a time. Tenants get upset when their time is ‘bumped’ so we try to keep the schedule as much as possible.