A Saskatchewan family recently travelled to British Columbia in hopes of finding a relative that they believed was living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Mike Scott hadn’t seen his cousin Daryl for seven years and told Glacier Media in an interview that his family member struggled with drug addiction.
“The lifestyle that he's living is really… it can be hard on family members back home because we're unsure of how he is, if he's safe, if he's even alive,” says Scott.
On Sunday, he and his aunt spent Mother's Day searching the Downtown Eastside, weaving through streets looking for Daryl.
“Our mission was to go and find him... and let him know that he's loved and give him the opportunity to come home if he wanted to,” says Scott.
When he finally found Daryl, his head was down. Scott walked up to him and said, ‘What’s up, brother?’
“He looked up and he kind of just dropped his bags. He ran up to me, and gave me a hug,” recalls Scott.
Then Daryl’s mother saw her son.
"She came running over. She was screaming. She's like, ‘My boy, I missed you. I missed you,” says Scott.
The two hugged and cried and had an emotional moment. It had been seven years since she last saw her son.
“It was beautiful to see,” he says.
It wasn’t just Daryl they found, but also another relative named Brandon.
“We didn't even know he was there. He left Saskatoon roughly two years ago and the last I heard he was in Calgary,” Scott tells Glacier Media.
When his cousin walked him across the street, Scott says he didn't even recognize him.
"You know, he's lost well, over probably 150 pounds. It just didn't look like him at all,” he says. "I was pretty shocked to see him there and just living in that condition."
Scott has since posted a photograph of the reunion on Facebook, which has garnered more than 570 comments and over 8,000 people have engaged with it. He hopes that by sharing his experience, others will show more kindness to those experiencing homelessness and addiction.
"Just because somebody lives with addiction issues doesn't make them any less of a person, less of a human being,” says Scott. "They still have people who love and care about them and miss them.”
He hopes that people will listen to his story and not be judgmental.
"Do your best to be as kind as you can because you don't know their story. You don't know what drove them to be in that position to be down there [in the Downtown Eastside].”
'Never too late' to change
Scott and his family members’ reserve is Sturgeon Lake First Nation; many of them now live in Saskatoon. He says he's been sober for 12 years and works as a motivational speaker and a roofer.
“It's very important when I share stuff like I did on Facebook, I'm vulnerable, because I want other people to realize what can happen to them if they choose that route,” he says.
When he speaks, it’s part of his healing journey as well.
"I share my family's story in my story, to help encourage people to stay away from drugs and alcohol because I know firsthand what it does,” he says. "I just want to see that change.”
He believes people need to think about addressing the issue that brought them to drugs and start the healing process from the inside.
"We really need to think about how we can fix the childhood trauma or what brought them there in the first place," Scott says. "A bottle of alcohol or any type of drug will never heal or fix what’s wrong with you."
Growing up, Daryl was involved in acting and was a really funny guy, even starring as an extra in some films.
"Addiction can really change a person's destination if they allow it to control them," he says.
Scott asked Daryl and Brandon to come back with them, but ultimately they were not ready.
Daryl does have a room at a Vancouver SRO, "where he can feel safe."
"At least he's not physically out on the street anymore,” says Scott.
Brandon, meanwhile, went to Calgary to be closer to family.
“You can't really force somebody to change,” says Scott. “You can't convince people. We could wish all day we could but it's up to them.”
His message: you can change.
"There are people out there who have picked themselves back up and it’s never too late. It’s never too late to make your life better.”
Reflecting on his day in the Downtown Eastside, Scott said it was a heartbreaking place to be.
“They literally have everything they own in bags or boxes beside them or they are carrying them around with them.”
He also felt ignored and judged while he was there.
"I have never felt so invisible in my life. People drive by in their cars, or they walk by and they won’t even look in your direction or if they do look at you it’s with judgmental eyes,” he says.
Not everyone was judgmental, though. There were moments of love and respect.
“They all looked out for each other, they made sure everyone was fed or had water. They literally have nothing and they still offered me food, chocolate bars and water,” he says.