The latest fire at Kelowna’s ‘Tent City’ is a reminder of the difficultly of being homeless in the cold weather and the province’s current drug crisis.
On Monday night (Dec. 19), a small fire broke out at Kelowna’s ‘Tent City’, destroying two tents and sending one person to hospital. The person who was sent to hospital has been identified as 42-year-old Dave Laboucane. He was burned when he went back into his tent to attempt to save his belongings.
Laboucane’s mom, Honor, reached out to Capital News to identify her son as the one who sustained the injuries. She said her son is currently in ICU under heavy sedation at Kelowna General Hospital and will be flown down to the Burn Unit at Vancouver General Hospital soon.
“The doctors say that he will be there for months healing up,” said Honor.
Skin grafts will be a part of the recovery process.
Dave is on the streets because of his fentanyl addiction, and has been on the Kelowna streets for more than five years. Earlier this year in June, Dave called his mom asking for help. She flew out to Kelowna from Fort McMurray, and it turned out to be at the right time because his life was saved when they got him to Vernon Jubilee Hospital. Honor’s sister is a nurse in Vernon. The two of them drove down to Kelowna and walked downtown until they found Dave. When they arrived back at the sister’s house, Dave began throwing up black. They quickly went to the hospital. Upon arrival, it was discovered he had internal bleeding that could’ve killed him within 24 hours.
The doctors put him on suboxone, a medication to treat opiate addiction. After a week in hospital, he spent a month in Fort McMurray with his mom, before getting into a treatment centre in Vancouver, where he was for six weeks. He was clean the entire time until the fall.
“He was doing so well on the suboxone,” said Honor. “It just takes away the cravings, he was happy and eating and it was really good.”
Doctors made a note to the treatment centre, saying Dave should stay on suboxone for at least two years. Instead, the treatment centre ‘weened’ him off the medication, which caused Dave to go back out and lose control again, even though he hates using.
“I think in a 12-step program treatment centre, they don’t want to go out of the box at all,” said Honor. “If you’re on anything, they’re going to take you off it.”
When the treatment centre started to take Dave off of suboxone, he agreed with it, but his mom didn’t.
“He hates using and has such a hard time figuring things out,” said Honor. “Maybe this will be the straw that finally breaks his back.”
Dave’s drug issues go back 22 years, Honor said. It started with marijuana around 16 years old, but soon turned into harder drugs. Honor was also a drug user when Dave started using, but when he started using heroin soon after, Honor went into recovery and hasn’t used any drugs since. Over the years, he cleaned up and went to university but fell back into drugs after not finding a good rehab clinic. In 2012, Honor and the rest of his family took him to the television show Canada Intervention but had no luck as Dave decided to go after his girlfriend at the time, who just left her treatment centre.
Honor explained that people can build a tolerance to heroin, so people start to use fentanyl because that’s the next heaviest drug.
“I’m just hoping but he’s going to be in a hospital where he’s getting care and they’ll probably get him a counsellor, he’ll get the help that he needs right there,” said Honor. “It’ll be a long time, they said it could be months and months, maybe even a year of recovery with skin graphs and physical therapy.”
Whether an addict or just homeless, the recent week of weather has made things even more difficult for the people of ‘Tent City’ as they’re trying to survive the severe cold temperatures, where in Kelowna its reached -23, feeling like -29 with wind chill. Back in October, Kelowna Bylaw Service Manager Kevin Mead told Capital News that homelessness has tripled since last year and additional resources are needed, yet it’s become so bad that its “beyond the municipality’s control.”
The hospital tried to get a flight arranged on Wednesday to get Dave down to Vancouver but there was going to be too much turbulence. They are going to try again on Thursday, according to Honor. The weather is also not helping Honor, who is trying to fly out to her son but Fort McMurray.
“It’s such a terrible epidemic,” Honor adds. “The doctors and the opioid clinics were amazing and helped him so much but treatment centres really need to listen to what doctors recommend. There is help out there.”