Twice a year, a Saskatchewan cattle rancher packs a bag and gets on a flight to Chilliwack.
The visits are no vacation for Khristina who spends time on the streets with homeless and drug-addicted people, many of whom have come to know her well.
Her reason for coming to Chilliwack is to find her son.
“I just spend time with him and love on him,” said Khristina, whose last name The Progress agreed not to use to protect her son.
Khristina said her now-26-year-old son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism in school, where he was bullied because of his disability. Eventually the family got him a service dog, but she said the school system wouldn’t allow the dog in school, and finally all the meddling “ruined” the dog.
Her family did battle with the school district, the Saskatchewan government, the human rights commission, but to no avail. Her son became addicted to drugs, and then she decided to sent him to the Chilliwack Men’s Centre in Yarrow, a substance recovery program part of Adult & Teen Challenge B.C.
That was 2016, but after he went through the program, he ended up on the streets of Chilliwack.
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” Khristina told this reporter during a conversation in Salish Park last Wednesday (Jan. 18).
“Nobody wants to be a drug addict.”
For a few years, her son would call to check in occasionally but two years ago the calls stopped. So now she comes to Chilliwack, immerses herself in the people she comes to know on the streets, and tries to find her son.
On this most recent visit, she arrived on Jan. 9 and stayed for 10 days. This time, despite him not knowing when his mother would arrive, the two connected right away.
“It’s called divine intervention,” Khristina said. “He finds me.”
Spending time with people living on the streets has been very eye-opening for Khristina. She has learned how many individuals addicted to illegal opioids are numbing the pain from various traumas, many of them sexual in nature.
“Society likes to blame these people,” she said. “But they just didn’t have coping skills. I say to people criticizing them, how many drinks have you had? We are judging these people who, they didn’t realize this is where it would end up.”
Walking the streets and sitting with homeless people, Khristina is undercover in a way, and gets a glimpse into what it feels like to be at the pointy end of public scorn. She also sees the generosity.
Soon after arriving, she said she was over by the bottle depot when someone offered her some cans, which she accepted and passed on. She was also offered a sandwich, and then clothes by another person.
But she also sees the derision heaped upon those who are addicted and unhoused. Mocking words yelled from a vehicle. Police bullying them to move on.
She is particularly angered by the treatment she saw in some local fast-food establishments, and wants people to know about it.
At the McDonald’s by the Yale Road overpass, Khristina said the restaurant is divided in half, on one side regular patrons, the other is usually homeless people getting a coffee, taking a break. While sitting on the “wrong” half one day reading a book during her visit, she said she was ordered to leave by a security guard and she was shocked by it.
“I don’t know what their problem is, it’s like segregation, the homeless go this way. And I’ve watched, the other side of the restaurant doesn’t get hassled.”
Overall she said the treatment of those on the streets is about a 50/50 split between nice and rude.
What Khristina also does during her visits is fill backpacks with toiletries, water bottles, notepads and pens, snacks, some for men, some for women, and she hands them out when she can.
“I just meet people where they are at,” she said. “I can relate and have empathy because my son is one of them. I’m basically doing street ministry. You know when they are ready to hear it. Just being present is important.
“They are somebody’s kid. Somebody’s father, uncle, brother, grandfather. They are loved.”
Wearing a “Jesus is Lord” pin, talking to The Progress at Salish Park, Khristina was asked what she saw in her son’s future.
”God only knows. I know the plan for us is hope and a future. I know my son will be clean one day.”
As for where he happened to be that day, the day before she returned to her rural life in Saskatchewan, she can’t call him to ask. And meeting up didn’t happen.
“I guess I’m not meant to see him today,” Khristina said.
”I spent time with him, and that has to be enough.”
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