“It was a cloudless, chilly, November day when I stood under the south end of the Pattulo Bridge in Vancouver, scouting for a possible place to sleep,” says Michel. “I’d been homeless for about two months, was sick and tired of my situation, and fantasized about what an alcohol-free life would be like.
“I started drinking at age 15 because it seemed like a fun and adult thing to do. Plus, I was awkward around girls. When I drank it was easier for me to talk to them. At that time I had no idea just how susceptible to alcohol I was.
“I eventually went to school to be a lawyer but that went by the wayside as my alcohol consumption increased. Over the next 30 years I continued to drink. I was a functional alcoholic―had nice vehicles, apartments and good jobs―but, in the end, I needed a six-pack of beer every morning just to get my day started.
“My life was one of constant hangovers and any promises I made to myself to quit never materialized. In the last four years of my addiction I pawned anything―my tools, gifts and furniture―to maintain my drinking habit.
“I became homeless and lost jobs because of alcohol. Paying rent or showing up to work wasn’t important anymore. I slept under a tarp on a beach or beneath a tree, chased down meals and tried to find ways to make money. Living this way took a toll on my mental and physical well-being. Homelessness is hard work.
"I became homeless and lost jobs because of alcohol"
“At 46 I knew that drinking wasn’t going to lead me anywhere. I couldn’t continue to live like that. I needed a place to go, a bed to sleep in. I went to The Salvation Army’s Harbour Light shelter in Vancouver. I’d been there two or three times before.
“The next morning I was sent to detox for five days. When I came back to the shelter my caseworker had arranged for me to go into treatment. That night I lay down on a real bed. I hadn’t slept on a real bed for over 10 years. That was the beginning of a new life for me. I’ve been sober since 2015.
"I hadn’t slept on a real bed for over 10 years"
“The Salvation Army’s addiction treatment program allowed me to catch my breath and focus on a future without addiction. I currently live at Grace Mansion, The Salvation Army’s second stage housing―a clean, safe and supportive environment―while I get back on my feet. I am going to school to become an addictions counsellor and work part-time at the shelter. I like my life.
“When I laid my head down on the bed the first night I slept at The Salvation Army I trusted that they knew what they were doing. Now I know. Everything they did was geared to helping me have a better life.”