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Kamloops man gives back to city with experience from 'both sides'

Cleaning around local businesses is just one thing Richard Marshall does at his job with the Customer Care and Patrol team in Kamloops.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Downtown Kamloops

A man in a red shirt has been picking up used needles, scrubbing graffiti off walls and gently moving squatting homeless people away from business fronts in downtown Kamloops.

His name is Richard Marshall and he knows exactly what it is like to be living on the streets with a drug addiction. 

“I used heroin for twenty years but I knew there was more to life and made the steps to get myself clean,” he said. “It took a long time and a lot of work.”

Marshall works for the Customer Care and Patrol team in downtown Kamloops, part of the neighbourhood’s business improvement association. The team wears distinctive red shirts while patrolling the streets and acting as ambassadors for the city. 

READ MORE: Proactively deterring crime: Meet the downtown Kamloops patrol team

Because of his lived experience and passion to help his community, Marshall is able to bring a unique perspective and approach to his jobs.

“A lot of the problems the businesses have are with the homeless when they are doing drugs and leaving needles and drug paraphernalia around,” he said. “I work between both sides. I know what it is like to be homeless with nowhere to go and people looking down at me all the time making me feel like I’m less than. I also know how frustrating it is for businesses."

Marshall said when he was living rough and people treated him with respect, it made him feel better and motivated him do better.

“When I ask homeless people to move along from a business front I do so with respect and it isn’t a problem,” he said. “A lot of them have mental problems, they are a little bit slower. It just takes time and care.”

Marshall left his home in Nova Scotia at the age of twelve and moved to Quebec and eventually to B.C. He settled in Kamloops six years ago and it’s the place he calls home. After going through recovery a few years ago, his whole life has changed for the better.

“I feel joy in my life without the drug,” he said. “Before I needed heroin to do everything and then it was just to function. After recovery I started to find other activities like dirt biking. I now have a life partner and I’m a father figure for two little guys who call me dad. All these things make me feel good without the drug.”

READ MORE: Kelowna's homeless population expected to double by 2026

Marshall’s daughter lives in Quebec. Last year he met her for the first time since she was three years old, and he met his new granddaughter.

“It was an incredible experience,” he said. “All these great things happen when you are clean and sober.”

Marshall said as part of his work team, he directs tourists to the best spots in town, cleans up needles and graffiti for businesses and helps to set up and tear down equipment at local events.

He joined the board of the Out of the Cold society, a group dedicated to providing shelter and meals to the homeless, almost a year ago and spent the winter volunteering at a shelter.

“Volunteering makes me feel good,” he said. “I spent the winter just taking names of people visiting a warming shelter. It felt good being on the other side, usually people are taking my name.”

For Marshall his jobs in the community are part of a life calling as an advocate for recovery, while working to maintain his own sobriety. He speaks about his experience at various places around town.

“My addiction is always going to be there, and as soon as I’m down or sad it becomes my job to manage that. I share my story with people and let them know where I am in my life.”

“People can’t get clean and sober when people keep treating them like dirt. No one knows where they came from and what they have been through. When people treated me better it made me feel good and I want to give that back.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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