Roy moved from Newfoundland to northern Alberta in search of work in the mid 1980s, and although the money was good, after seeing many of his friends develop health issues, he decided it was time to move to B.C. for a fresh start. That was in 2001.
Hoping to get his bearings and start looking for work, Roy initially landed at the Front Room, a homeless shelter in North Surrey.
But steady employment proved difficult to find, so Roy ended up collecting bottles and working odd jobs for cash. Soon, he was living on the street.
One day he met Darlene, a tall, pretty girl, at church.
Both were struggling to find work and were becoming increasingly frustrated with the street crime in the area and wanted out.
“Everyone seems to start in Whalley,” says Darlene, “but eventually you can’t get out of there fast enough.”
Daily, the two began venturing as far as Port Coquitlam, pulling a large cart behind their bikes to collect bottles. Shelter was a constant struggle, between couch surfing with friends and camping in local parks.
“We had a great spot in Bear Creek Park. We had a queen-size bed, a large dresser,” says Roy. “We could even watch the football games on a small TV. Then the RCMP came in and pepper sprayed everything. We had to leave.”
With nowhere to go, the couple found a secluded lot in South Surrey near King George Boulevard and 32 Avenue and set up another camp, well-hidden from the street.
That was home for 13 years until development pushed them out.
Roy was able to develop an understanding with various local businesses which allowed him to clean up their lots and provide “security.” He says Canadian Tire even offered him a generator.
He doesn’t collect social assistance, believing welfare promotes a poor work ethic and should only be used in emergencies. Roy now works part-time at a car wash, does odd jobs and collects bottles when he can.
For the last few months, Roy and Darlene had been renting a house on 24 Avenue. But it will soon be torn down to make way for a multi-family development and they have to leave. Power to the house has already been shut off.
“I just wish people wouldn’t stereotype the homeless,” Roy says. “We’re not drug freaks. We would just love a place to stay.”
NO FIXED ADDRESS: Read the other stories in this Leader special report: