Never before did Lance feel so alone.
For years the 77-year-old woke up every morning cold, shivering under layers of blankets. His shelter was his truck, but it was hardly a home.
With just a bowl in the back to wash in and no place to keep food fresh, he started to understand why people who experience homelessness become so emotionally defeated.
“I can see how people get down, how they get so low,” said Lance. “When you get down, you don’t give a damn. You don’t care. You really don’t care about anything. All you want is a way out.”
And now, thanks to the generosity of thousands of strangers, Lance has a way out.
By request, his full name is being withheld due to privacy.
Being alone for that long taught him something – it’s okay to receive help from strangers. It also taught him the value of a good book.
“You turn around and get a great respect for other people, for their concern for you. And if they’re concerned for you, what can you do about it? Well, you can do the best you can. And you have to turn around and learn to accept, and say thank you afterwards,” said Lance.
Lance’s story has touched many lives.
When his kind face and warm demeanour was broadcast on national news earlier in the year, it tugged on many hearts – not just because they saw an older man without a roof over his head, but because of something he said: “I admitted to myself, and I admitted on TV, that I put myself in this rotten position.”
A new beginning
A resident of Kelowna since 1949, a variety of family circumstances left Lance without a home. These circumstances, he said, are very personal.
In a past life, Lance was an engine mechanic, working for an engine manufacturing company in Detroit, Mich.
He also worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as a ship’s officer.
A car crash on the Coquihalla ended his career. Many times when living like this he was hit with $100 fines for sleeping in his truck. However, one year ago when he approached a church to ask if he could park his truck in their parking lot, he got far more than he expected.
Sherrallea King, a caretaker at a Kelowna church, showed compassion and let him park behind the building.
From there, a lifelong friendship was born. Multiple times a day she checks on Lance, bringing him food and clothing.
“Sherrallea has been an absolute godsend for me,” said Lance.
One morning in October, Lance awoke to find he could hardly move his right arm or his fingers. He had suffered a stroke. He spent three weeks in the hospital, but when he got out, he couldn’t drive. King offered to take him where he needed to go until he regained movement in his arm.
Since he started experiencing homelessness, Lance has found blessings in many unexpected places. He recently returned to a local dry cleaner to pick up his clothes, and the owner had paid for his cleaning. Someone even paid for the insurance on his truck.
The community has been bringing him necessities such as food and gasoline, but one gift he holds dear – new friendships.
For the first time in years, Lance has a warm bed to sleep in. He is temporarily being housed by an individual who opened up his home to the senior.
Asked to identify the hardest part, and the best part, about living this way, Lance jumped to the positive. When he learned to accept his actions, Lance said he began to accept himself, and come to terms with the fact he is doing the best he can.
Support from across the nation
When he first started living in his truck, Lance was still receiving some money from his pension. When strangers offered to help financially, he would politely thank them but refuse. Now, with online fundraisers launched in his name, he’s overwhelmed.
“It’s kind of befuddling. It’s something I never expected in my life. It’s a bit emotional; it’s a lot of pride.”
The last payment for his truck is next month. The money donated from the community will help him become debt-free, and get into a small apartment.
“The biggest problem I have right now though is not knowing who to thank, or how to thank so many people. How do you thank everybody? You can’t. Because most of them (online) are anonymous.”
King said Lance’s story speaks to a larger issue of people this age not receiving the support they need. She said Lance’s situation isn’t as rare as one might think.
“He’s a real family man, a real grandpa, and (those are) the people who shouldn’t be falling down into that pit… Everybody has grandmas and grandpas, and I think that’s the group we need to be looking out for.”
To donate to Lance or help in any way, contact Sherrallea King at 250-878-7153, or email her at email@example.com.
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org