When you’re on the brink of the precipice staring into the great abyss, sometimes the right words can make all the difference.
It made all the difference for Daniel Roy who, a few years back, was literally standing on the precipice. With a rope around his neck, he was perched on the edge of the Simon Fraser Bridge. Fifteen years of living on the streets of Prince George had taken its toll. The final straw was a broken heart. The woman who he had shared a life addiction and crime with had been plucked off the streets by her parents and taken back to the Okanagan.
Alone, Roy was ready to go until an RCMP officer asked him a simple question:
“If you’re dead, how are you going to change the things in your life,” the officer asked.
That officer was Const. Shawn Ingham. He, and other officers of the Prince George RCMP detachment knew Roy pretty well by the time they met that day in 2017. Roy had had 235 contacts with the RCMP in the year preceding his trip to the Simon Fraser Bridge.
“I was one of the most prolific offenders,” he said. “I was addicted to meth and heroin, two of the most addictive drugs that are out there. The thing is, I didn’t want to be homeless, but addiction took hold … I was tired of what I had become. I didn’t plan on becoming drug addict. I came from a good family, I came from a great family.”
And yet, there he was … rope around his neck and teetering.
“All it takes is the compassion of one person and it can change a person’s life,” he said. “Had it been another officer that day on the bridge, my life would be a whole lot different. I would have been dead or I would have gone into the psych ward and it would have been a vicious cycle.”
Ingham sat with Roy in the hospital and helped him make the decision to go into treatment. Prior to his life on the street, Roy was like most other people, until he wasn’t.
“It was one bad decision to try something addictive,” he said. “I lost everything and I was homeless after that. It makes no sense to the average sober person. On one hand you have your family and love and on the other you have your addiction. You’re always going to choose the addiction.”
He would build a shelter to survive on the streets, especially in the winter. He had a bike and trailer, like many of the people you see on the street, and lived, at times, in a tent city behind the old city works yard downtown. Cold winter nights, naturally, were very, very difficult, but Roy was resourceful.
“I always had a space heater and I’d built a shelter, out of pallets, beside a wall,” he said. “I’d plug in the heater.”
To feed his drug habit, of course, was the life of crime.
“On more than one occasion I got caught stealing from the Salvation Army compound,” he said. “I cut holes in the fences and everything.”
He went to the Salvation Army to get food one day and was asked to go into the office, where he was met by two officers, and he knew he was caught. The Salvation Army official, however, sent the officers away and dealt with Roy with “compassion.”
He now works at the Salvation Army.
“I can appreciate what the business owners are going through,” he said. “But what these people need downtown is for someone to love them, they need people to reach out to them.”
He says there are treatment facilities, such as Baldy Hughes, but more are needed for men and women.
“We need a viable solution to recovery in this town,” he said. “A lot of the homeless people who may want to get off of drugs, they can go to detox, but when they come out of detox, where to they go? Back out on the streets … The stigma around addiction and recovery needs to be broken. Recovery is possible and these people just need a little bit of compassion.”
His message to the community grappling with the burgeoning problem:
“The opposite of addiction, in my opinion, is grace, compassion, and community.”
His message for others still on the street:
“No matter how hard it gets, keep your head up and pray.”