Part One of a series of stories submitted by members of the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition.
For the Lakeside Leader
One of the goals of the Homeless Coalition is to bring the stories of people experiencing homelessness in Slave Lake to public attention. Through storytelling and education we hope to change the narrative on homelessness and move forward as a community to bring about tangible actions and improve services.
Here is the story of Reuben Brule, 49, as told by him.
Reuben was born and raised in Slave Lake. Both his mom and dad went to residential school, and his dad has now passed on. The residual effects of growing up with parents who survived residential school fell back on Reuben and his siblings, who he says were “put in their positions all the time.”
Reuben grew up with a lot of abuse, drinking and violence. He would sneak out of the window at night to get away. At the age of 15, he left home.
Reuben said he worked for quite a few companies in town. He worked for many years driving heavy equipment. In those days on paydays, he would pay his bills, look after family first and then he would go out drinking. Today, he says he and his friends have a hard time returning to work as their tickets have run out and it is difficult for them to renew them. Some companies will cover for you but many won’t.
Reuben moved back from Edmonton recently to try to find work. He is trying to get his class 1 license but it is very expensive now so he spends a lot of his time on the street with the guys. He is concerned that companies now will not hire him.
Reuben has been sleeping in the streets of Slave Lake for the past eight weeks. From the age of 35, life has been difficult for him, but he always looks out for everyone on the street, especially Paul, a homeless senior. If the streets get violent he says his mom will pick him up and buy him supper.
He can sleep on his mom’s couch if he needs to but it is hard on her. His mom wants him to leave town because seeing him on the street, she tells him “brings her to her knees.”
Reuben is concerned for himself and other street people in Slave Lake. He is also concerned for the younger generation who he feels are doing worse than he did at their age.
Reuben says, “They don’t know which direction to go, because they never had a direction to begin with. There are too many drugs in this town and the young kids can’t pick themselves up. I don’t use drugs.”
Reuben can relate to these young people and remembers sleeping on the ground with many other homeless.
Reuben doesn’t see much of a future for himself or the homeless in Slave Lake. He was greatly concerned that there is no Mat Program in Slave Lake. A home would be good to get the homeless off the street as they have in High Prairie, but not here.
“We used to sleep in the banks in the winter and no one did anything,” says Rueben.
Now we have nothing, he adds.