Sunday, October 17, 2010

Remembering Linda Sam, Wondering what will happen to Kenny?

by cyann ray, published in the November Street Newz. a 20 minute audio chat with kenny, from october 2010, is here.

Another sister has left us. Linda Mary Sam was the seventh of nineteen children born to Edith Sam in Whitehorse, 1947. Linda is survived by sisters Maisie and Elsie and, remarkably, their 97 year old mother, still living in Whitehorse, as well as her three children and three grandchildren. Linda’s father passed away when she was a toddler.

A full-blooded Kwanlin Dün Native, Linda spent most of her childhood (ages 4-16) in residential schools. The abuse experienced there left her scarred and partially deaf. Linda endured those years, then a couple of unhealthy relationships which bore her three children. Still in her mid-twenties, Linda met a young man with thick glasses and a warm heart. Kenny and Linda paired up and remained together for 42 years until September 2nd, 2010 when Kenny had to let go of Linda’s arm for the last time.

We mourn the loss of this strong but poor woman who had such a troubled and difficult life. But those of us who knew Kenny and Linda, know that they were made for each other and had love between them.

Despite becoming completely blind, Kenny always managed to provide for he and his better half. And now that his better half is gone, Kenny is alone.

Blind Kenny has worked the bench outside the church at Douglas/Broughton for nearly 20 years. And while he would sit there and holler “spare a little change?!”, Linda would comb the downtown core, touching base with the street community and making sure everyone was okay. Stocking up at food banks enabled her to feed many of the homeless and less fortunate. Some even found temporary shelter, a hot shower and a smoke and a beer at Kenny and Linda’s small apartment. She was affectionately known as “Mom” on the streets and although the homeless demographic has changed drastically over the past decade, there still remains a crowd quite familiar with the generosity of this long-lasting couple.

Kenny’s bench sitting days are now over. After spending most of his life relying on Linda to navigate thru town, he is now completely on his own for the first time in his life. With no family and a peer group of mostly impoverished alcoholics, this next chapter of Kenny’s life will be quite a challenge.

Admitted to Victoria General Hospital the night Linda passed, Kenny remains in the hospital despite not being sick. Unable to return to his home, Kenny must now await as our over-worked safety network tries to arrange suitable accommodation. A new home to get used to. A new life to learn. A difficult journey for a blind, alcoholic, 58 year old with a grade three education. I fear him falling silently between the cracks and my heart weeps.
Kenny and Linda lived at 950 Humboldt for nearly two decades until several years ago when construction demands displaced them. Pacifica Housing relocated this especially vulnerable couple into a crime-ridden dump. I visited there just once ... it was awful and unsafe. A far cry from their sunny yard where, for about fifteen years, I enjoyed regular visits over cups of tea and laughter.

I’m not sure if the new buildings at 950 Humboldt (originally owned by C.N.I.B., then B.C. Housing) are designed specially for low-income and/or the disabled but I do know that they are not ready for occupancy and Kenny’s wish to move back into his old neighbourhood is unlikely to come true. Living at the hospital is hardly a solution either. The staff seem to have their hands full dealing with sick people and he is quite neglected. From not being able to eat the food, to having to stay in his room (nobody to walk him around, stretch his legs...), this seems like a fate worse than death.

Most recently I learned he has been denied access to his money and forbidden to leave the grounds. Kenny is a grieving widow suffering from (alcohol) withdrawal. He is being further victimized by poverty and a failing system. I am outraged with the lack of compassion and available support in this so-called healthcare facility but I am at a loss as to what to do. Over the years I’ve seen dozens of well-to-do business types, church goers and do-gooders give Kenny envelopes of cash as he sat on his bench with his bucket of change. Are these folks wondering where he is now?

I manage the hour bike ride out to VGH every few days, each visit discovering more details of neglect. Each visit becoming more disheartened. Nobody deserves to be abandoned like this, least of all dear, sweet, generous Kenny. Linda would share my outrage if she knew how her hubby was being mistreated. She spent most of her life looking after Kenny and it was a full-time job. I suspect it will take a small team of professionals to do the work this remarkable woman carried out on her own for over 40 years. I wish I were in a better position myself to help Kenny, but all I can do is share his story and be his friend. Unfortunately, he needs a lot more than that.

Photos by Nancy Raycroft.