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.
Sometimes, even when you don’t want help, help comes looking for you. Such was the case for Dave Boreham. Born and raised in the Downtown Eastside, Boreham had a normal life. He owned his own business, had a home, a wife, and only drank on the weekends.
“My wife thought I might have a drinking problem, but I convinced her that I didn’t because I only drank on the weekends, and I told that I would only drink on the weekends,” he says. “I thought about drinking all the time, but for the most part I did only drink on the weekends, but when the weekend came from the moment I got up until the moment I went to sleep I was never without a drink in my hand.”
While he spent the entirety of his weekends intoxicated, it wasn’t until Boreham’s wife of 25 years passed away that things took a turn for the worse.
“I started drinking more, sold my business, sold my house, and came back down here,” he says. “I never really left DTES, but I was in nicer places. I started drinking, and it got to the point where I was drinking a 40-pounder case of beer, or whatever I could get in a bar, every single day.”
At the age of 56, Boreham spent most days so drunk he could barely function. One morning, after five or six years of living drink-to-drink, he decided to stop in at the Union Gospel Mission for a cup of coffee on his way to the liquor store. Even that proved a challenge in his inebriated state.
“I never got the coffee to my table, I shook too hard and everything came out,” he says. It was that failed cup of coffee that would soon change his life.
“A guy sat down and talked to me, he was an outreach worker/pastor. He said ‘I think you might have a problem. Maybe we can help you,'” says Boreham. “I didn’t want anything to do with him, I still wanted to go to the liquor store.”
In an attempt to get him to leave, Boreham asked how many applications they currently had for their Alcohol & Drug program. After finding out there were a stack of unprocessed applications, Boreham decided to placate the worker and apply, thinking he would never get accept anyways.
“I couldn’t write, so he wrote it all,” says Boreham. “I said ‘Okay, I’m going now,’ because I had every intention of still going to the the liquor store. He said ‘Just hold on’ and came back a couple of minutes later and said ‘Sarah will see you at 1:30 today, our intake worker.’ I had no idea what an intake worker was, and I didn’t really care. I was going to the liquor store.”
Even then, Boreham couldn’t shake the pastor.
“I said ‘Okay, see ya,’ he said ‘Where are you going?’ and I said ‘I have things to do.’ He said ‘You’re in luck I have nothing to do, I’ll come with you.’ It wasn’t very lucky,” he says, laughing.
“Well, in the end it was.”
On his way to the liquor store, pastor in tow, Boreham decided against the visit, stopping at a Starbucks instead. At 1:30 he returned to the UGM, and within the hour he was in the residence upstairs, admitted to their six month Alcohol & Drug Recovery program.
“My intentions were basically to spend the night here then leave in the morning,” he says. “That’s the way my mind thought for the first month. Every day there was some reason I held back. ‘Well, I’ll wait ’til tomorrow then I’ll leave.'”
But he stayed, and found the strength to get sober. While the program brought positive change, it wasn’t until a week before he completed the program that things took another turn.
“I was in the church doing a praise and worship and I just fell down and couldn’t get back up,” he says. “Ended up being this whole side got paralyzed. Lucky for me, everything seems to be working except for the leg. Then I found out I had cancer, then I found out I had a bunch, then I found out they couldn’t do anything because I had an abscess, and if I they did chemo radiation it would kill me.”
Boreham then went through five surgeries, including two back-to-back at 12 hours each. Even then, he was given just six months to live.
“I was supposed to be dead about three or four years ago,” he says, smiling. “[I’m] still alive, still kicking, still doing what I do best.”
Following his completion of the Alcohol & Drug Recovery program, Boreham began volunteering at the UGM. He now volunteers for 20 hours a day, working odd jobs, building relationships and – as he describes it – “causing havoc.” Donating so much of his time, Boreham says he’s just doing what he feels is right.
“It was pretty simple. I mean, I wanted to give back,” he says. “I couldn’t financially give back to this place. It basically helped save my life. I’m not going to lie about that. I didn’t know what I could do, and I wasn’t sure I was capable of doing much of anything, especially in a wheelchair. However, there appears to be a lot of jobs around here that I’m more than capable of doing.”
Now sober for almost four years, Boreham says working with the UGM, talking to the people going through the program, and telling his story when he can helps him provide people with the mental support he needed in his darkest hour.
“I think it’s important for people out there who are struggling to know there’s a place to go,” he says. “That’s it’s not totally hopeless. I believed it was totally hopeless for me. I was wrong.”