Harvey Clause, an Abbotsford homeless man and advocate, reflects on a few fatal overdoses over the past few weeks. Clause says grieving while homeless holds distinct challenges with little for privacy and little time to process grief. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Harvey Clause, an Abbotsford homeless man and advocate, reflects on a few fatal overdoses over the past few weeks. Clause says grieving while homeless holds distinct challenges with little for privacy and little time to process grief. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Homelessness

Nowhere to grieve: How homeless people deal with loss during the opioid crisis

Abbotsford homeless advocate says grief has distinct challenges for those living on the streets

As the homeless community grapples with an overdose crisis that is shaking the province, one advocate says it’s hard for the most vulnerable members of the community to properly grieve the loss of loved ones.

In recent weeks, Harvey Clause said two members of the homeless community were lost to overdoses within a day of each other. One of those was a man who left behind a wife – a married couple who had struggled to find housing.

“There have been a few of those, actually, the past year. It’s sad. I couldn’t picture losing a wife or somebody that close to you, especially when you’ve been together for awhile, and then you lose your partner. It’s a lonely experience,” Clause said.

RELATED: Carfentanil found in 15% of overdose deaths in Januaary: B.C. coroner

RELATED: B.C. opioid overdoses still killing four people a day, health officials say

The B.C. Coroners Service reports more than 1,510 people died of suspected overdoses last year, including 40 in Abbotsford. Although most overdoses occur in private residences, the homeless community is hit especially hard by the crisis, and Clause says it can be a challenge for those living on the streets to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Ted Leavitt, a registered clinical therapist with Connectivity Counselling in Abbotsford, says society more broadly is bad at grieving, in particular noting the general lack of time we give ourselves to process loss.

A few days of bereavement leave may be enough to grieve a more distant relative, but that same amount of time off, Leavitt says, should not suffice for the loss of a child, for instance.

“That’s such a western ideal in many ways – go to work; don’t think about it – when in reality, what we need to do is think about it. We need to process it. We need to make sense of it, work our way through the stages and ways of grieving,” said Leavitt, who previously worked in addictions treatment, often with people coming from homelessness.

But Clause, who in the past made his money by finding recycling or other items in garbage bins to sell, noted that there’s no bereavement leave for the homeless.

“Our work begins everyday when we start to get up on our feet and walk around the city,” Clause said.

Not taking the time to process the trauma is often what causes long-term issues, said Leavitt, who likened grieving on the streets to “battlefield grieving.”

“You don’t have time to grieve. You just have to survive, yourself,” Leavitt said. “What is important for someone to be able to experience trauma without it developing into post-traumatic stress disorder or creating dysfunction for them, is to have someone in their life who’s a stable person who can help them … to make sense of it.”

Without that process, Leavitt says people develop what is referred to as a “freeze response.” That response can bear the semblance of coping well with a traumatic experience, but in fact is often simply the brain suppressing the trauma.

“They can go through horrific things and appear to be unfazed by them,” Leavitt said.

“All that stuff just gets shoved down further and further and further. There’s a disconnection where they have this behaviour that’s designed to dampen the pain and they don’t necessarily know where the pain is coming from.”

Clause added that there’s often a risk of someone who has lost a loved one to use drugs alone, something harm reduction advocates have long strove to educate against, due to the potential for an overdose with no one around to revive or call for help.

But on the other hand, Clause notes that there’s no privacy for someone who lives in a tent or sleeps in a shelter and who wants to spend a bit of time on their own to grieve a loved one.

“It’s not like when my mom passed away, I had a place to go. I had my apartment to go back to,” Clause said, referring to a time before he was homeless, adding that having a home also often makes it easier to connect with family.

“Some of us have no family. The only people we have is ourselves, and we have nowhere to go.”

Find more of our coverage on Homelessness here.

Report an error or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Abbotsford News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

HomelessnessHousingHousing and Homelessness

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

From left: Councillor Lucy Taylor, Councillor Barry Banford, Councillor Bill Haring, Mayor Merlin Blackwell, Councillor Lynne Frizzle, Councillor Lyle Mckenzie and Councillor Shelley Sim. (District of Clearwater photo)
Council to consider raising taxes in 2021

The District of Clearwater council is considering a tax increase this year… Continue reading

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Interior Health reported 43 new COVID-19 cases in the region Feb. 23, 2021 and no additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
43 new cases of COVID reported in Interior Health

No new deaths, Williams Lake outbreak over

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Island teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

Most Read