Mo Korchinski is one of the lucky ones.
“Eleven years ago, I was homeless,” she told the audience at the second session of the Community Dialogue on Homelessness, Wednesday at the ACT in downtown Maple Ridge.
A former female inmate who now helps others, Korchinski was one of four speakers at the session, Jurisdictional Matters: Challenges and Opportunities.
Korchinski became a drug addict, she said, the first time she used drugs. Then she became a drug dealer, operating three “crack shacks” at once.
Her children were two, five and seven when she left them.
“Yes, I chose the first time to pick up the drugs. But after that, that choice was gone.”
She went to prison, where she spent close to six out of the next eight years, on possession and trafficking charges. She was there long enough that she was able to get into a drug treatment facility, and received job training.
She is now a regional social worker and peer mentor, as well as chair of Alouette Addictions Services.
Women today, she said, aren’t in Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge long enough to be offered treatment, and job training was removed while Stephen Harper was prime minister and hasn’t been reinstated.
Women getting out of prison, she said, are often homeless, have little education and were ostracized from family long ago. They have no safe housing.
It can take 30 to 90 days to be admitted to a drug treatment facility.
“Women say they don’t need food, clothing and housing in a month. They need it today,” Korchinski said.
“The problem is, there is nowhere for people to go.”
So the women start using drugs again.
Every time they go to prison, Korchinski added, they lose everything.
“And they come back out and start again.”
They are the most vulnerable population, she added.
“Two years ago, we had cab drivers who were propositioning the woman when they were coming out.”
Most of the women at ACCW are drug addicts, she said.
“People say they hate the homeless, they hate the drug addicts. You can’t hate them any more than they hate themselves. I hated myself.”
She said anyone who is addicted has mental health issues.
“You think anyone in their right mind would use drugs everyday, knowing this fentanyl, this could be their last time?”
Korchinski was molested by a family member at age 11.
“My story’s not that different than most people’s.”
She wrote a book about her life, Arresting Hope, so people would understand who people are on the street.
“No one wants to be on the street.”
She said homelessness isn’t a political issue.
“It’s about life and death,” she added.
“As humans, we should be taking care of this population.”
They feel taken care of in prison, which is why, she said, emergency shelters and supportive housing should be located close to city centres and services, not on the outskirts.
“They already feel like they don’t belong,” she said.
“We have a huge opportunity in this community to make a difference. Is it our responsibility? Ya.”
Korchinski said people use drugs to escape from reality, for many different reasons, and that addiction affects everybody.
“Who’s jurisdiction is it? It’s everybody’s.”
Not in my backyard?
She’s lived in downtown Maple Ridge for the past eight years.
“My biggest fear is when I don’t see one of the girls on the street. Are they alive or are they dead? Because no one really cares. So someone needs to care.”
It’s difficult to bridge the gap from prison to treatment, she said.
After treatment, where do they go?
She credits an elder in prison for believing in her and giving her hope. In prison, she found a unique community, free of judgement.
“I had a job. I had a home. I had a bed. I had food. You have that for 30 or 60 days, then all of a sudden, it’s your time to leave and you get kicked out, and now you have nothing, you’re leaving a family behind, and warm bed. For what? There’s nothing out here for people.”
Cities want to end homelessness?
“What are you going to do with the 10 to 20 people coming out of prison each day?
“There’s nowhere for these people to go, and you wonder why there’s a revolving door going in and out, in and out of the prison system?”
Money is being wasted, she said, warehousing drug addicts in prison.
“That’s a health problem.”
Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Dave Fleugel agreed, homelessness is not a crime. Police are bound by laws and policies.
“Moving people around isn’t going to solve anything.”
He reiterated: “We aren’t going to arrest our way out of these issues.”
James Yardley, a partner with Murdy and McAllister Barristers and Solicitors, outlined the court decisions involving Victoria and Abbotsford that led to Maple Ridge, earlier this year, creating a bylaw that restricts camping in public spaces.
Lisa Spitale, chief administrative officer for New Westminster, outlined how her city dealt with homelessness and related issues, creating various committees, developing a strategy and coordinating efforts with city staff, police and bylaws.
“In a nutshell, we got educated.”
Housing First was key, she said.
New West now has four supportive housing shelters – one in an old hotel – offering different levels of service, such as long-term transitional beds.
All have been in operation since 2010.
Spitale said the city’s crime rate has since declined, as has New West’s homeless population – from 72 to 34.
For Korchinski, a 12-step treatment program was enough for her to stop using crack cocaine. For others, harm reduction models work.
“Methadone for heroin addiction is an amazing program.”
More treatment is needed, she said after the meeting.
And she supports low-barrier housing.
“We need the Caring Place. We need low-barrier. We need all the services for all the people,” she added.
“Putting a roof over someone’s head gives them some purpose and hope … If there is no hope, if you have no purpose, you are just existing.”