What would my life look like if I moved into an 8-foot by 8-foot room?
Could I keep my job? Could I keep my belongings? Could I keep my mental health? Would so little be enough?
Or would it be just enough to start changing my life for the better?
People in Duncan are making that choice right now.
Lucas, a member of the Stz’uminus First Nation, is one of them.
This past winter (January 2021), several dozen small sleeping cabins were installed at two sites in Duncan – one downtown site, and a First Nations site called the Mound.
With support from United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island with funding from the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, the Cowichan Housing Association project is housing some of the Cowichan region’s previously unsheltered citizens.
Lucas hit the streets when he was about 12 years old, leaving home with his twin. Drug use entered his life.
“Back then, it only used to be marijuana, you know. Marijuana and booze … A lot of things have changed in 20 years.”
His housing status, too, has changed a lot over the years. Lucas has gone from living on the street to living with a group of people in a house, staying with family, living in a trailer and other situations. Over that time he’s gained and lost many belongings, having to again and again build back up the items he needs to survive.
Due to the pandemic, he was recently housed in a hotel, and there, he decided to make a change.
“I tried to quit everything. I was smoking weed, I was smoking cigarettes, I was smoking side, I was smoking meth, I was doing cocaine, and then drinking too, at the same time. So I quit it all … and it took me on the fifth day to finally say that I needed to go to the hospital.”
Lucas’ battle with drugs doesn’t end there. But he’s continuing to find reasons to keep working for his future. One of those reasons was assisting to reverse an overdose. Though he had done it many times before, this time spurred a change.
“At that moment, at that time, at that day when I got here, I revived a young brother at six o’clock and I helped to bring him back. And that was revive number 113 in two years,” says Lucas, his voice breaking. “So I was happy that the young little brother came back. And then I asked auntie if there was any spots still available and she said that there was one spot open, and that landed me a spot here [at the Mound].
“And I was happy that I got to have this and had the chance to live here because it was getting hard to try to figure out where I was going to lay my head, let alone pack all my stuff, where to shower, where am I going to get my next food.”
Now living at the Mound, Lucas credits the support he and his girlfriend give each other for much of their progress, as well as the work of an uncle who had been working at the Mound.
Inspired by him, Lucas took up his uncle’s cleaning duties, keeping the grounds clean and cleaning the washrooms.
“I didn’t like the smell anymore of coming out of there. I went to the stores, and I’d see the people’s faces because they would smell me,” he says.
“They didn’t have any showers here for us, so that’s kind of hard, and that brings in a little bit of depression, because you don’t get to wash your body when you want to get that little bit of that sickness off of you, because you’re sweating out the drugs … And you keep wearing your clothes, it’s still on your clothes so it makes you want some more and more and keep going back for more of it.”
But Lucas is coming up with his own solutions. He’s put together a shower between his and his girlfriend’s sleeping cabins using some tarps and a simple camping shower.
Lucas’ journey continues to be difficult, but he’s putting in the work to make it better for himself, and the people around him.
“Honestly, it’s been like a really big roller coaster.”
“Seems like there was a big cloud, a big black cloud, and it’s still here. It’s over this, this place. And I think just because how people see what I’m doing, it’s kind of a chain reaction. You know how they say dominoes, right? That’s what I think I’m doing too, and I hope that’s what happens. I’m praying for all of the, each and every single one that’s in one of these cabins.”
As he works toward his future, Lucas is making space for hope that he can be a parent to his kids, that he can become a security guard for the Mound, or become and outreach worker and help those that are where he has been.
“I really want to become an outreach worker, because I want to be here for everybody.”
After all he’s been through, and in the midst of all he’s trying to accomplish, this is the message Lucas wanted to share:
“Stay humble. Don’t lose yourself. And don’t judge. Nobody is better than anyone, just because of what they are doing or how they look. Maybe they just need a hand – someone to be there to help them, to help show the way. If they want to get back, they will come back. If they want to stay the way that they want to stay, that is their choice. That’s what this place is to me, is choices. All you have is your choices, and it’s your choice. And I want to live. I want something better.
“I’m Lucas Hubert Modeste. I’m one of the Modeste twins. They call me Locz. I love each and every single one of you guys. Stay strong.”
Shelter gives people a choice. If we give more people choice, more of our neighbours will choose their health and their future.