Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Drugs and danger never far away for downtown Prince George street survivor

Former oil-patch worker still recovering from baseball bat attack that nearly killed him

In his years of living on the streets in Prince George and Dawson Creek, Jason has seen too many friends die of drug overdoses.

Disturbingly there’s no fix in sight to the problem that last year killed 2,511 British Columbians.

Jason quit counting after the 38th time he had to inject someone with Narcan to bring them back from the brink of an OD death. He carries the kit with him wherever he goes. The first time he used it, on a friend in Dawson Creek, he didn’t get to him in time.

They know what they inhale into their lungs or inject into their veins can be deadly, so why take the chance?

“Nobody wakes up one morning and says,' I’m going to use heroin or fentanyl', it’s stuff that builds up over time," said Jason, who didn’t want his surname revealed.

“Basically, when you start using fentanyl you don’t give a crap what happens to you anymore, it numbs the feelings you have. Most people that use, if you look into their backgrounds, they haven’t had an easy life from childhood up. Most of them are pretty good people that just had a lot of shitty things happen to them.”

The story of Jason, and how he ended up a homeless downtown wanderer for the better part of six years is a tale of drugs, depression, violence and heartache, with no happy ending on the horizon.

When he got into my vehicle to sit and talk about his life I had no idea what he had gone through to hit that rock-bottom stage, how he slipped from being a well-paid worker in the oil patch to being a drug-addicted street survivor nearly beaten to death by a convicted felon wielding a baseball bat.

But I decided it was important for Citizen readers to know about life in the inner-city core and what really happens to some of the estimated 300 people in Prince George who have no place to call home. For Jason, that story starts with the day his life almost ended.

Last year on the afternoon of Oct. 27, not long after he ate his bagged lunch from the St. Vincent de Paul Drop-in Centre on Second Avenue, Jason was standing in an alleyway behind the Ketso Yoh men’s homeless centre on Quebec Street when a man he knew approached him and without warning whacked him on the head with a baseball bat. He found out later he had been struck eight times during the assault that fractured his skull, which happened in front of witnesses who came to his aid by chasing away the attacker and phoning 9-1-1. The suspect was followed and police arrested him 15 minutes later a few blocks away.

“I was friends with him, I thought,” he said. “I guess he had a thing for my girlfriend. He hit me for absolutely no reason. I was just minding my own business.”

Jason was rushed to UHNBC where doctors removed a piece of his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. He was then flown to Vancouver where he had two other surgeries and doctors inserted a titanium plate to patch the hole.

The assault was recorded by a video camera which led to a charge of aggravated assault against Tucker James Botheras, who remains in custody pending trial. Botheras was out on bail after he was found guilty of another assault committed on June 25, 2022.

After 14 days in Vancouver General, Jason was flown back to Prince George and spent another 10 days in hospital before he was released. But with no fixed address he had no place to go. He went to several social agencies trying to arrange for a room where he could recover from his injuries but nothing was available.

Jason remembers nothing of the attack and suffers from severe short-term memory loss. He gets confused and disoriented. Years before the attack, Jason was in a car accident and suffered a head injury that caused him to lose his short-term memory capacity. Now, that condition is even worse.

“I’m lucky if I could retain maybe 40 percent of what happened every three days, it’s almost like (the movie) 50 First Dates - everything was wiped clean,” he said.

“I got lost up at Spruceland for three days, just walking around, and that may never go away.”

Motel rent payments leave little in his wallet

Jason wants to work but is reluctant to take a job because his short-term memory is virtually non-existent and he says he won’t remember instructions a day after they were explained to him. He’s applied for Persons With a Disability assistance to supplement the $1,050 per month he gets from the province to pay all his living expenses. That was an upgrade from the $600 per month he used to receive.

In February he moved into a room in the Frankfurt Motel along the Hart Highway which costs him $1,000 per month. That leaves him with just $50 from his government assistance cheque to pay for his other living expenses.

The motel room is a bus ride away from downtown where he can get three meals a day and socialize with his friends, but it beats relying on the Active Support Against Poverty shelter on Sixth Avenue or sleeping on the street.

“I got lucky because I got a social worker and a life skills worker that are helping me; the room is the start of something,” he said. “My room has a bed, a fridge and stove, no microwave, no TV and sometimes no hot water.”

Jason has suffered from depression most of his life and has been diagnosed with PTSD symptoms that sometimes cause him to wake up screaming. His nightmares were disturbing other residents of the overnight shelters so he avoided going there and that meant being outside alone on the streets at night in frigid winter temperatures. He survived the cold by finding a heat vent near a building and covering himself with a tarp or bedding down in underground parking structures, where he’s never safe from people who want to steal his possessions. He had his backpack stolen several times while he was asleep and has lost count how many cell phones and cordless chargers he’s had to replace.

“Everything I own, I’m wearing,” he said. “When you sleep on the street people take stuff out of your pocket while you’re sleeping. If I’m not robbed once a week there’s something wrong.”

Jason lived outdoors through the winter of 2021-22 in Dawson Creek on days when it dipped to -48 C with wind chills in the -50s.

“I was outside for it, I didn’t have any place to go and I walked 18 hours,” he said. “I knew if I stopped I would have froze to death.”

No public washrooms means dirty streets

Jason sympathizes with shop owners and business operators downtown who complain about street people who have no place to go to the bathroom and leave human waste on the sidewalks, streets and alleyways. He doesn’t like it either but says the lack of public washroom facilities in the downtown core creates a problem that's sometimes unavoidable.

“Put on some grubby clothes and a backpack and go into a business and ask to use the washroom and you’ll see how many let you use them," he said. “There’s only two places that are open at the same time, the House of Friendship and the Needle Exchange, so where do you go. People say it’s disgusting but do you see any port-a-potties around?

“It doesn’t matter what you do, there’s always going to be a few that screw it up for everybody and will lock the door and OD in a port-a-pottie. It doesn’t mean everyone is going to be like that.”

Originally from Dawson Creek, Jason worked on the rigs for several years after he left high school.

“For the most part I had a good upbringing, I was into sports a little bit in elementary. At one time I was on the basketball team, volleyball team, roller hockey team, I was even into badminton. I took martial arts for six years. I can fight if I have to but I avoid it as much as I can. If I get hit in the head for the next six months it could kill me.”

As the oldest of four kids, Jason grew up hunting big game animals with his dad and shot his first moose when he was 11. That continued into adulthood and he was always able to keep the family freezer full of meat. He was living in his van and had his hunting rifles with him the day he got arrested two years ago.

A police tactical unit swarmed the vehicle his friend was driving and he was charged with unlawful storage and possession of firearms and unlawful handling of firearms. Jason had a previous criminal record for possession of cocaine for purposes of trafficking and during that arrest he had his hunting rifle locked in the trunk of his car.

He spent about five months in jail.

“I was out on a promise to appear when I got these other charges,” he said. “The way they read the charges it made me look like a fricking savage. I’ve never had a violent charge, I avoid trouble as much as I can. I should have fought it but the lawyer said just take the deal. Now it’s on my record and it makes you look like shit.”

He served his time in the Prince George Correctional Centre and after his release he thought he was turning his life around for the better, living in rented house that overlooked Babine Lake. But he was forced to move when the owners decided to sell the property. Jason has a brother and two sisters and remains close to his family but he knows going back to live with his parents in Dawson Creek in not an option. One of his sisters lives there with her kids and money is tight.

Unable to find an affordable place to rent in Smithers or Houston, he got on the train and came to Prince George two days before Christmas in 2022.

“I’ve been on the street ever since,” he said.

Jason spent some time over the summer living in the former Millenium Park encampment but refuses to set up a camp at Moccasin Flats on the east side of downtown.

“I won’t stay down there, look how many people are in shootings or their places are being burned down,” he said.

Treatment centre steering him away from street drugs

Now 37, Jason started using cocaine and crack when he was 20. Treatment programs helped him stop. He was addicted to fentanyl and other opioids for years but is well down the path to getting straight.

After getting a doctor’s prescription he’s been a regular at the Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) Clinic on Alward Street, where he receives methadone and suboxone injections in a supervised clinical setting. OAT clients are given access to counselling, education, support, community and treatment referrals and naloxone kits.

“It actually works good, I’m pretty much staying off fentanyl,” he said. “I’ve used it a few times, here and there, but for the most part I’m off if it. Now that I’m off fentanyl, I occasionally use methamphetamine.”

Known as crystal meth, he says because he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder the drug affects him differently than most people.

“Because of my ADHD it does the opposite of bringing me up where you’re bouncing of the walls, it actually levels me out,” he said. “Amphetamine is pretty much the main thing that’s in Ritalin.”

His downward slide started soon after he lost custody rights over his daughter, who is now six and was privately adopted.

“When she was born I wanted to take custody because her mother didn’t want her, but I lost the fight there,” he said. “Her mother put (on paper) that the was father was unknown. As soon as the judge threw out my case was pretty much when I started (using fentanyl).

“I would love to be part of her life, but I know the mother’s biological mom (a family friend) and she said her daughter is in a good home with two good parents and that’s all that matters to me.”

Jason holds out hope that one day, when he’s completely clean and sober and back on his feet financially, once she’s old enough to be told the truth, he will make contact and introduce himself as her father.

“I’ve got to get back to proper housing and get my mind straight again and get back in touch with my family, he said.

“I’ve got a stepson here and I’ve only seen my granddaughter once. He’s 17 and he’s having problems too with the ministry and lost (custody of) the kid and he’s got another one on the way. He’s making me a grandfather way too early. I wish I could be there to help them but I’m not in that position.”