Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: A little faith in people can go a long way

Even those many consider to be lost causes can turn themselves around

After years of reporting mostly negative stories about the homelessness, crime and rampant drug use along the long-troubled highway corridor, it was a real pleasure to finally write one that was positive and hopeful.

I had a call from Will Arnold, owner of the corridor’s Experience Cycling, late last month inviting me to a short presentation at his store in which a rehabilitated young man, Lance DeBreé, who was once a homeless drug user, was to receive a RCMP Challenge Coin.

The coins are given by the RCMP as a mark of appreciation to members of the police units, colleagues and civilians that have assisted police officers as they do their work in communities.

I arrived at Experience Cycling and was delighted to find that a number of other local store owners were also there for the presentation, which was to be a surprise for DeBreé, as well as family members, friends and RCMP members.

Before DeBreé arrived, Arnold told me DeBreé’s fascinating story of hitting rock bottom and clawing himself out of his misery and self destruction to become a valuable and treasured member of the community.

Arnold said that among the many drug users and homeless people (who are very often the same people) that often make life miserable for the shop owners, their customers and nearby residents, a number of people saw something in DeBreé that made him stand out, and they realized that if given the opportunity, he could get off the drugs and make something of himself.

So, they offered DeBreé the job early every morning of cleaning up the garbage and other debris that homeless people and drug users leave around their businesses overnight.

Happy that DeBreé took on his new job with gusto, Graeme Blackstock, owner of the Duncan Butcher Shop, went a step further and offered DeBreé a job at his store where he is successfully learning all the skills of the trade.

DeBreé has accepted every challenge his new friends gave him to reboot his life for the better, and his life has changed remarkably as a result.

I think it’s commendable that the shop owners stepped up to help out DeBreé after all they’ve been through over the years.

I remember in June, 2021, being called by Adib Atrchi, owner of the Applepress printing shop, after a young man pried up a manhole cover from an adjacent parking lot, raised it over his head and threw it through his shop window before he just walked away without trying to take anything.

I watched the video of the incident and the sudden impulsiveness of the young man to just smash a large and expensive window without any apparent reason was disturbing to see.

In the background of the video, you can see a customer coming out of an adjacent store and hurrying to his car and driving quickly away after he watched the window getting smashed in, likely deciding to take his business elsewhere from then on.

Needless to say, Atrchi was very upset and frustrated by the needless destruction at his store and wanted the authorities to do more to stop such senseless acts from occurring.

Many of the other business people I’ve talked to over the years feel the same way, so I couldn’t help but think that DeBreé must really be an exceptional person for the store owners to take a chance on him like they did.

When he finally arrived at the presentation (at which he was shocked to see everyone), the love and respect he is held in by everyone in that room was apparent for all to witness.

Warren Kongas, a member of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment who went to school with DeBreé, presented him with the RCMP Challenge Coin and certificate.

“There was some concern that with so many of your old acquaintances still on the street, you’d get caught up in that world again, but you never did,” Kongas told DeBreé with his voice trembling with emotion. “You’re now a valuable member of the community and we’re all so proud of you.”

It was a touching affair, and showed that even those many consider to be lost causes can turn themselves around.

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