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Former addict pushes cart for kids @risk

Roberts' Push for Change campaign comes to Richmond to talk homelessness
Joe Roberts

Joe Roberts pushed a shopping cart across the province last summer, capturing the attention of many British Columbians.

Roberts, a former heroin addict and Downtown Eastside resident, was creating awareness for his upcoming cross-country trek, The Push for Change, helping kids @ risk raising money towards helping homeless youth.

The cart is symbolic of the outcomes we are trying to avoid for kids that of living on the streets, said Roberts, of his 14-month journey beginning Jan. 2, 2013 in the Downtown Eastside.

Its a stand for kids at risk because we want to help the Amanda Todds of the world. (Todd was the 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied.)

Roberts is the keynote speaker at An Evening with Joe, tonight, Friday, Oct. 19. It is a fundraiser to increase awareness of the new Drop In Centre for the homeless, which will be housed temporarily in St. Albans Anglican Church hall.

I will speak in the context of the power of transformation and redemption for those who are addicted to drugs and are homeless, said Roberts.

I will also honour and acknowledge those who dedicate themselves to help the homeless, because they provide hope and respect in that cup of coffee or that sandwich or that hug.

Roberts knows the power of a helping hand, a warm meal, and the show of respect and trust.

During his 30-minute talk hell tell his life story, followed by a question and answer period.

I normally get asked questions such as, how could parents prevent their children from taking drugs, or about harm reduction and how I feel about safe injection sites, added Roberts. Im also asked how my parents didnt know parents are often clueless to their teens drug addiction.

Roberts ran away from home at 17.

My dad died when I was eight and my stepfather was an abusive alcoholic, said the transplanted Ontario native.

By nine, Roberts was sniffing glue, and by 15 hed tried most illicit drugs as well as alcohol.

At 16 I was in jail and by 17 I was injecting heroin, he said. I came to Vancouver during Expo 1986 and moved to the Downtown Eastside.

At 24, he had an Ah ha moment.

Roberts walked into a bar on a miserably cold and rainy day and sold the boots on his feet for drugs.

Thats when I realized I was beat and tired of seeing my friends die of drug overdoses, added the 45-year-old. I already had lots of friends in jail, and I knew my time to party was over.

He said faith, his mother and the Salvation Army got him out of the depths of his despair.

I went back to Ontario and entered a residential detox treatment facility for six months, Roberts said.

After a few years spent in the corporate world, Roberts quit to dedicate himself to helping others overcome poverty, addiction and homelessness.

He firmly believes that every human being can transform their lives if they choose to.

What gets Roberts out of bed each day is being a conduit for change.

When I have someone come up to me after a conference and tell me they heard me five years earlier and I changed their life, that is my reward, he said. But, I only give the message, they have to act on it.

I tell my story, but what invariably happens is someone in the audience relates to my story and sees themselves in it Im just the face of the cause for change.

Prior to becoming a sought-after motivational speaker and author, Roberts was a CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation and received the Courage to Come Back Award, Business in Vancouvers 40 Under 40 Outstanding Business People and McLeans 10 Canadians Who Make a Difference.

In 2003, when the economic floor fell off, I lost half of my wealth and then I got very sick, he said.

I rethought my life and I walked away from the corporate world that same year.

St. Albans Anglican Church reverend Margaret Cornish is honoured to have Roberts speak. Joe is the face for whats possible if we support and help our homeless, said Cornish.

Cornish said the Richmond Homelessness Coalition, along with City of Richmond staff, the local business sector and local nonprofit agencies, put together a steering committee last summer to identify what services were lacking for the homeless.

Thats when the idea for a drop in centre was born.

We identified that the most critical need in Richmond was for a drop in centre, said Cornish. The homeless havent got a warm, safe and welcoming place to go to during the day.

We are opening tomorrow (the centre was slated to open Thursday, Oct. 18) in the hall at St. Albans.

The centre will be open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will provide Internet access, a television, games, advocacy services, as well as offer free coffee, tea and snacks.

CHIMO has already committed to provide services while we are open, added Cornish.

Once the centre is up and running, we can address the other issues surrounding homelessness, as well as what is needed for those who couch surf and dont have a fixed address.

Cornish said they hope to raise $4 to $5,000 during the fundraiser to offset the costs associated with running the facility.

We will eventually have to move into a permanent facility and that will cost additional money, added Cornish.

This Friday, Oct. 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. join St. Albans Anglican Church as they host An Evening with Joe at the Chinese Bunkhouse, Britannia Heritage Shipyard, and 5180 Westwater Dr.

Tickets are $30 and include appetizers and wine. There will also be a silent auction and music by Kevin Zakresky.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call the church at 604-278-2770 or the Richmond Food Bank at 604-271-5609.