In recognition of Homelessness Action Week October 11 to October 17, Vancity Buzz will be featuring profiles and interviews with former residents of the Downtown East Side, organizations trying to make a difference, and the history of one of Vancouver’s most notorious neighbourhoods.
This series is presented in partnership with the Union Gospel Mission, which offers support, programs, and resources for people looking to overcome their addictions, reenter the work force, and take back control of their lives.
On Saturday, October 17, 2015 UGM invites you to learn about the DTES community through the Hello Neighbour Project, which offers neighbourhood walks and a community plunge at Oppenheimer Park. For more info visit www.ugm.ca/haw
More information on the Union Gospel Mission can be found online.
The path of Larry Yargeau’s life has put him through some of the worst things Metro Vancouver has to offer, but it was a long and challenging path that got him there.
Born in Regina Saskatchewan, Yargeau was taken from his parents when he was just a few months old. He spent the next fives years in the Canadian foster system, bouncing from family to family, experiencing abuse at the hands of people he was told to trust. At five-years-old, he was adopted by a family in Calgary, being treated to more of the same. Finally, at 12-years-old, he’d had enough.
“I ran away from home,” he says. “I started drinking and smoking weed, and progressively got into cocaine, drinking, and partying.”
Cutting off all contact with family and friends, Yargeau became embroiled in a life of gangs and crime, which would see him in prison for 12 of the next 14 years of his life.
While incarcerated at Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba, Yargeau reconnected with family members also serving time. Speaking with his uncle, Yargeau realized he had to try and make a change in his life.
“He told me that my mum wouldn’t have wanted to see me like this,” says Yargeau. “At that point I just decided that I wasn’t going back. I wasn’t going to go back to jail, and to this day I haven’t.”
But that didn’t stop Yargeau’s path of addiction. He continued to drink, continued to do cocaine, and things only got worse from there. Following the death of his much-loved aunt, Yargeau went to a friend’s house and did crystal meth for the first time. It wasn’t long before the drug took total control of his life.
“I had two kids, I had a great life, a good job, had a house, but none of that could keep me from using meth,” he says.
He hid his addiction from everyone he knew, doing meth in secret for two a half years. When he began selling meth, Yargeau became a feared figure in his community, using his position as a dealer to do more drugs than ever.
“Seven grams of meth in two or three days,” he says. “Which is a lot. It kills most people that do that much.”
It was around this time that Yargeau’s ex-girlfriend offered him an ultimatum: go to recovery or never see your kids again. While he completed a program in Alberta, it was only weeks later Yargeau was back to using. In an attempt to escape his negative influences, Yargeau accepted a job in Vancouver, and tried his best to stay clean.
“That didn’t last very long either,” he says.
With his days spent working, using meth, and hanging out with addicts, dealers, and criminals, what finally broke Yargeau’s spirit was a roommate. Yargeau woke one day to find one of his roommates – an alcoholic – had defecated on the floor of the living room.
“I just walked away. I called to talk to my kids, because when I talk to them I just forget about everything else,” he says. “My ex wouldn’t let me talk to them, because I was so mad.”
With nowhere to go and no one to talk to, Yargeau walked to the Pattullo Bridge, ready to end it all. While contemplating the jump, Yargeau had a vision.
“I looked over the side of the bridge and I saw my two kids’ faces. I didn’t see any water, no boats,” he says. “That’s when I asked God, and said I needed help.”
From the bridge, Yargeau walked all the way to Union Gospel Mission facility in New Westminster, and immediately enrolled in their Alcohol & Drug recovery program. Following his completion, he began working at UGM Hastings on the maintenance crew, but again the stresses of life would push him back to drug use.
“I got paid on a Friday from here. A thousand dollars,” he says. “I came back on Saturday broke. I didn’t spend anything on food, rooms, anything – it was all spent on crystal meth.”
UGM sent Yargeau to a recovery house in Abbotsford, after working his way to house manager, he accepted a position as house manager at another house in Burnaby. Yargeau and his friend began abusing this position of authority, continuing to use meth, safe in the fact that they couldn’t get kicked out.
“There was no way we were getting kicked out,” he says. “I was the one doing everything.”
The guilt of running a recovery house while still getting high began to get to Yargeau. Taking another opportunity to start fresh, Yargeau moved to Duncan on Vancouver Island with a woman he’d met online. Within a month he was drinking and using meth again. While texting his dealer, Yargeau instead texted a friend of his in Vancouver, whom he had completed the UGM Alcohol & Drug program.
“He said ‘Don’t do anything, don’t go anywhere’ and I said ‘Well, if I’m around,'” he says. “What I meant at the time was I was thinking of going to live with a friend in Port Alberni… He took it more seriously and thought that I was doing to kill myself. Looking back, I probably would have.”
Yargeau’s sponsor phoned him, and talked Yargeau in to returning to the Alchohol & Drug program.
“I didn’t want to. The last thing I wanted was to come back here and go through six months again,” he says. “Not only that, but being ex-staff, and knowing pretty much all the staff that work in the building, and having them see me come in again. But I did it.”
Like many people who have completed UGM’s Alcohol & Drug recovery program, Yargeau spent more time working on who he is, instead of just getting over the physical aspects of his addiction.
“This time around I did a lot of work on the inside, as opposed to last time, it was everybody else,” he says. “This time it was all about me.”
It’s been almost nine months since Yargeau has had a drink or used drugs. With steady employment and his feet under him, things are looking better by the day.
I’ve got things in my life now. I get to help my friends that are still out there, because they want what I have,” he says. “It’s good to be that kind of light for other people in life, because I definitely wasn’t this guy two years ago. I was the polar opposite.”
Yargeau has began to reconnect with his ex, with his children, with his family, making amends and mending relationships where he can.
“For the longest time I didn’t love anybody,” he says. “Now, there are lots of people that I care about. Even people that have made me mad, or people that I dislike, if something bad happened to them I’d feel bad. I’ve never had those feelings before.”