(Capital News file photo)

Former homeless man hopes to inspire change for others

Dean Schaffler was one of the more recognizable men living on the street in Kelowna

Growing up in Edmonton in a middle-class family, Dean Schaffler wanted for very little.

His family had all the toys—a boat, RV, skidoos and a cabin.

But when a close family member introduced him to cocaine when he was 17, everything changed.

Working in his family’s auto body shop business, Schaffler soon became dependant on the drug, spending the next 20 years orientating his life, multiple relationships and even a young family around his addiction.

In the early days, he hid it fairly well, but barely made ends meet, eventually losing his partner and son, who left him.

Soon, Schaffler met a new partner, one who shared his growing dependency on cocaine and alcohol.

In the winter of 2004, the couple headed to B.C., hoping they might escape their demons.

Sadly, the proceeds of the sale of his partner’s $152,000 condo proved too much of a temptation and within five months all the money was gone, and both had driving convictions that rendered their vehicle useless to them.

In 2009, Schaffler arrived in Kelowna and stumbled into Metro Community’s gathering and breakfast on a Sunday morning, held in a nightclub on Leon Avenue.

“I didn’t grow up with church. I believed in God, and because he was in the national anthem, I knew there must be something there, but this wasn’t anything like I imagined church might be. There were all sorts of people together, and they genuinely wanted me there,” said Schaffler.

From 2010 till 2017 Schaffler and his partner were on the street, often seen huddling and sleeping in doorways with their three dogs.

More than twice Schaffler appeared on the front covers of newspapers in Kelowna, cited as the face of homelessness.

Throughout that time, the pair frequented Metro’s weekday centre, then located on Water Street, finding community, food, comfort, belonging and above all hope.

Multiple attempts at detoxing and recovery programs left Schaffler at the point of despair, but a close call with death for his partner, left Schaffler reeling and shocked. The doctors told him she might not live. That led him to vow to stop drinking. That and the offer of housing through the “Housing First” strategy, led to months, and now years, of sobriety. Schaffler credits Metro Community with helping to save his life.

RELATED: Five years ago, homeless man ‘had everything’

“Metro doesn’t turn their back on people, especially those who’ve been abandoned and rejected. Metro open their arms to people that no one else wants to associate with. Because of faith, community and Jesus, I have hope…and I share hope, every day,” said Schaffler.

Today, Schaffler is on staff in the Metro Central community drop in space on St. Paul Street, serving the vulnerable who come in daily, serving cups of coffee, handing out encouragement, food, and advice.

He recently had his driver’s licence restored, and enjoys the faith that has been placed in him. Many who knew him on the street can hardly believe the transformation.

“Five years ago I never thought I’d have anything to shoot for – to live for. I never felt trusted. Now, I have keys and alarm codes. I have responsibility for the first time in a long time. I now know that I have people in my corner,” he said.

“The community at Metro remind me of how well I’m doing. I’m trying to show more patience, and grace. I know many people from the street, so it’s tough. I want to do better and be a good example. It’s a good feeling to help people.”

On Saturday, Feb. 23 at 4 p.m., Metro Community will host Coldest Night of the Year, part of Canada’s largest homelessness awareness event. Starting and finishing at Sandhill Winery, more than 30 teams will walk two, five or 10 kilometres to raise funds and awareness for the work of Metro Community in the Okanagan.

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