Mark Metcalf spent years as one of the invisible homeless of Langley.
The 53-year-old man was born in Surrey and raised in Langley from the time he was 10 years old.
Until a few years ago, he was constantly on the move, sleeping on the couches of friends and acquaintances.
Everything he owned had to fit inside a duffel bag – clothes, work boots, and a few tools, and that was it.
“You’re always wondering where your next bed’s going to be,” Metcalf said.
He isn’t wondering now. Metcalf has spent the last month in a permanent home, a room at the Elm complex run by the Lions in Langley City.
Getting there required some help from the folks at the Gateway of Hope. Metcalf spent the previous year in their long-term transitional housing wing, a facility designed to get people who have been homeless back into housing for good.
Metcalf grew up in Langley, attending Langley Secondary and H.D. Stafford the first time it was a middle school.
He finished high school and got into construction work, building barns in Abbotsford and water-proofing high rise buildings.
It was good work, but too much of the steady pay cheques started going to alcohol and drugs.
Though he kept working, eventually he didn’t have anywhere to stay that was permanent. He moved from full-time jobs into casual day labour, and that was less stable.
Sleeping on couches may be cheaper than renting, but money goes out quickly too, for eating out and other expenses.
Metcalf began coming to the Gateway of Hope shelter about five years ago.
He was in and out frequently, finding another couch to stay on, then coming back to the Gateway eventually.
Eventually he moved up to the transitional housing program and stayed for about a year.
Metcalf managed to get work, and moved in with a roommate.
But that situation ended when Metcalf was hit by health issues and lost his job. He was back at the shelter.
Metcalf’s health concerns are so serious that he can no longer go back to construction work. He’s had three strokes, has a stent in his heart, and has a broken disk in his back.
“I want to work,” he says immediately after talking about his injuries.
This time, with his new home at the Elm, Metcalf is hoping he’s found a stable place he can call his own.
He’s slowly collecting some furniture and personal possessions, things he hasn’t owned in many years.
He’s got a microwave, a couch, and is starting on the kit for his kitchen.
It’s a slow and steady process, he said.
But having moved in in late summer, Metcalf is already enjoying privacy.
“Peace and quite, nobody’s moving around,” he said.
He’s keeping busy by going back to the Gateway of Hope, this time to help others.
“Mark’s been a blessing to us at the Gateway of Hope,” said John Dewsbury, Metcalf’s program advisor.
Metcalf is working in the kitchen, helping with pickups and donations, and with the setup for the Thursday coffeehouse.
If not for his stint at Gateway, Metcalf doesn’t think he’d be in a good place now.
“Probably out on the street, or locked up in the hospital in a straitjacket,” he said.
He knows of other homeless people who have spent years without even a couch to crash on.
“I see a lot of people that are on the street, and they get used to it,” he said. He didn’t want that to happen to him.