Fifty-year-old Shane is an active volunteer, a former hockey player and a trivia buff.
Like many couples, he and his wife Joanne often tease each other.
“She doesn’t have a volume switch. I’ve been trying to find it for years,” he says of Joanne, who is so soft-spoken you need to lean in close to hear her.
“I didn’t come with a volume switch. Or a return policy,” Joanne quietly quips back.
Joanne and Shane moved to the Okanagan a few years ago, but it wasn’t easy. They spent time living outdoors when they were unable to find housing. Money ran out quickly.
Having experienced both substance use issues and homelessness, they know about shame and blame firsthand.
“Every homeless or drug addicted person I know has been impacted by stigma. If you carry a back-pack, you’re not allowed to use a washroom, even in a business where you eat every day,” Shane says.
”Stigma is everywhere. We need to get rid of it, for everyone. Not just for the homeless or addicted but as a race.” He pauses. “Whoa I’m getting deep now, holy cow.” He laughs to lighten the mood, but his words are true.
It was the impact of stigma that spurred Shane to begin advocating for marginalized people in their community. He is a co-founder of VEPAD – Vernon Entrenched People Against Discrimination – a support group of sorts, that is active in harm reduction efforts, community clean-ups, and education.
“Don’t paint everybody with the same brush and don’t be so quick to judge. It can happen to anyone. I’m proof of that,” Shane says. “I come from an upper middle class family. I was always a confident person until 10 years ago.”
“I’d never used drugs in my life. I didn’t drink much. All of a sudden one night I had a line of cocaine put in front of me, and I fell in love with it right then and there. I couldn’t get enough of it. I lost everything to it.”
The stigma surrounding homelessness and substance use weighs on you, Shane says, until you are looking down all the time and it feels like nobody cares about you.
When they were invited to share their lived experience at a business event, Shane realized how many people and agencies there are in town that do care.
“And now I guess we’re one of them,” he says, referring to VEPAD. “And I like that.”
Shane’s story is part two in a four part series of stories and videos about the stigma faced by those impacted by substance use.