Shane LeBlanc of Moncton remembers what life was like living on the streets when he was only 12 years old.
At the time, he thought it was cool.
“I felt free in the city,” he says, “but really, I was living like a rat.”
LeBlanc says the love from his mother was strong, but the lure of drugs was more powerful. He left homes before he was even a teenager and his life quickly spiraled into addiction and homelessness.
“I was at a really hard place in my life where I felt like I didn’t need anybody or anything except for just the streets,” he says.
LeBlanc says he spent his days roaming the city in a drug-induced daze. Nighttime was the hardest, when he was forced to huddle into a ball in his thin hoodie and sleep on the sidewalk.
He often found shelter under a train bridge, where drug addicts and dealers hung out.
“There used to be a few couches that were lined up right against the wall here and it just reeked with the smell of plastic. That was crack smoke,” he says. “It definitely left me in a situation that I was around a bunch of snakes.”
He says he was high all the time and had no sense of direction or ambition. He had resigned himself to a life of suffering.
“I felt that the streets was gonna be my home and that I was gonna be a bum on the streets, ” he says. “My two options I figured is that I would be dead being on the streets and freezing to death or I was gonna die on an overdose of drugs.”
Eventually, he found his way to the Youth Q.U.E.S.T. program, which is administered by Moncton Youth Impact. It’s one of many programs in the Atlantic region that provides care and guidance to youth, many of whom are homeless.
LeBlanc says he saw it as “a place that reaches out to people,” adding that “they want people to understand that it doesn’t matter the lifestyle you choose, there [are] people out there that want you to do better.”
This weekend, hundreds of people across the Maritimes will take to the streets to walk for Coldest Night of the Year in support of people who are hungry, hurting and homeless. Across Canada, nearly 16,000 people and 3,000 volunteers will participate. More than $100,000 has been raised so far with much of the money going to help at-risk and homeless youth.
Thanks to programs that benefit from those donations, people like Shane LeBlanc can go from being suffering child addicts to drug-free young adults with a bright future.
“I have learned that I can be what I want to be as long as I put my mind to it,” he says. “That is what I was lacking all these years, is the ambition to know that I can be something. I can be what I want.”
© 2016 Shaw Media