It’s 1am. Most are asleep. Myke is walking the streets of New West and Burnaby filling his pockets* with used crack pipes, syringes and other pieces of drug paraphernalia. People have called the Police on him because he has been seen reaching through gates, foraging around dumpsters and dark corners picking up syringes. No matter how cold and wet it is, he goes out religiously to do his rounds cleaning up our streets.
For four to six hours, every single day, for the past five years, Myke has walked from Downtown New West to Queensborough Bridge, 20th Street to 10th Avenue to Edmonds and Kingsway to Canada Way, 6th and McBride to Braid Street Skytrain Station and Sapperton, cleaning up after a crowd most don’t want to see or don’t know what to do with. In a course of a week, he picks up an average of 500 pieces of used drug paraphernalia off alleys, around dumpsters, railway tracks, streets and our parks. His motivation isn’t driven by a pay cheque because he isn’t being paid to do this. He is driven by a personal sense of obligation to keep the community he lives in safe. He may not be able to stop people from using drugs but he can keep users safe from reusing supplies and the rest of the community out of harm’s way.
Myke is happy if he can play a small part in saving one person’s life from the heartache of furthering drug addiction. The heartache he knows all too well.
Myke has lived a privileged life. His father owned numerous logging companies throughout the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. His mother was a high-end escort who worked at different hotels in Vancouver. Perhaps from the perspective of some, Myke was exposed to an atypical childhood but in his mind, this was the only life he knew and with innocence, he enjoyed it.
As soon as he could, Myke started working for his father during the summers getting his trucking license at 15. By then, he had owned three cars. A life of copiousness knows no bounds. “I stole my mom’s heroin,” as Myke remembers getting hooked in eighth grade. At 18, he bought his first house, then a second house and his first semi-truck. He was able to feed his drug addiction because money was never an issue.
He married his sweetheart at 19. “We were inseparable – you couldn’t separate us with a reed.” Myke fondly shared.
When he started his own trucking company, there was no care in the world because he and his wife had the world at their fingertips. They felt invincible, as if nothing could touch them. Myke drove around the continent transporting lumber with heroin in his pocket. He bought and sold stolen cars because he could. Life seemed perfect, that is until it all caught up to him. Myke recalls, “We never had a problem until I got caught. We had lost control.”
Three months before his incarceration, Myke walked into Maple Cottage Drug and Alcohol Detox Centre to get off of heroin because he didn’t want to go through withdrawal in jail. Days before he admitted himself into the program, he stashed syringes, heroin and some cocaine in a box and buried it in a flower garden nearby the Centre just in case he “couldn’t handle it (the program)”. Although he only lasted 3 ½ days, he walked out of the Maple Cottage Centre, and walked passed the flower garden never to look back at heroin again. “I quit for me; not because someone else wanted me to. I did it for me and that’s why it stuck.”
Myke spent 6 years in a provincial jail, 22 months and 11 days of that being in remand.
He got out in 2004 but nothing could have prepared him for what came that year. Myke’s oldest son at 30 died from an overdose and his wife, the love of his life, died of Diabetes. They were married 26 years. “When my wife died, I went nuts. Things went very downhill…”
The pain from loss triggered an avalanche and there was nothing for him to hold on to. Myke didn’t have anything to care about anymore. Although he didn’t go back to heroin, he took whatever else came his way and he went at it hard. Myke lost everything, became homeless and ended up living on the streets. “Money now started to mean something because I didn’t have any. I had to eat.” he said matter-of-factly.
After living on the streets for two years, Myke realized he couldn’t continue this way anymore. So in 2006, he collected his courage, confronted his pain and worked towards getting clean. He also worked hard at finding a place to call home.
Sometimes after returning from a long journey, one comes back to a life that he realizes isn’t as familiar as it once was. He’s a different person and he finds himself having to learn how to live life again. At 59, the physical and emotional scars Myke bears tell many stories.
“Before I felt nothing because I was numb all the time. I feel everything now.” For so long, Myke’s world revolved around him and the drugs he took. Myke has learned that pain isn’t something to fear but something to embrace. Just as much as love, pain also exposes the profound capacity of our hearts and it is when we begin to understand this that we begin to truly live.
Today, his body doesn’t work as well as it used to after years of drug abuse and having a stroke three years ago. He’s clean and he lives in an 8 ft.X 11 ½ ft. room, far from his past life. Walking in the silence of the streets at 3:00 every morning, Myke has a lot of time to think. There’s not a day that goes by he doesn’t think about his wife. He still gets teary-eyed talking about her. He thinks about how proud he is of his kids and grandkids. He thinks about his community and hopes in a small way, he is making a difference. With every step, he carries great love and great pain. Myke feels alive. He is living.
*Note: It is not safe to put used drug paraphernalia in your pockets. The safest way to dispose a used syringe, if you find them on the street is, with gloves or garbage pickers, place them needle down in an empty pop can or some sort of container with a lid and take it to the nearest medical clinic, pharmacy or social service provider (i.e. Purpose Society, UGM, Lookout Society for example) that carry proper biohazard disposal containers. Do not throw these items into the garbage can.