A man found dead at a government parking lot homeless tent site in Chemainus last week has been identified.
Chris Macdonald, 43, was a strong advocate for the homeless, who connected well with the community despite his own struggles with homelessness and addiction.
Good friend Jenny Naylor confirmed Macdonald’s death on his Facebook page, Power 2 the People.
“We all had love for him,” wrote Naylor. “His struggles are documented. And his work on overcoming the obstacles should be noted.
“He was found peacefully in his tent Friday morning at the Fuller Lake Park COVID-19 homeless camp where he was tirelessly working to help the most vulnerable of mid-Island Chemainus, where he hoped he’d be safe – with help from this community where he’d tried to stay the winter in a cart.
“He had friends. And family. Most compassionate, talented, caring, unselfish man I’ll ever meet. I feel sympathy for us all for losing him. And so sad too soon.”
The cause of death is undetermined but under investigation, Andy Watson of the BC Coroners Service said Thursday. Foul play is not suspected.
Misfits Fitness Studio and Healthbar in downtown Chemainus had become one of Macdonald’s connection points with the community.
“I first met Chris last summer having coffee with him in the Healthbar,” noted co-owner Samantha Fincham. “He would come visit most mornings. As winter progressed it got cold and he was homeless, so I would make him breakfast some days and we would chat. He had built this amazing cart that he could pull with a three-wheeler bike. He was working on a patent for his cart and wanted to make it available to all homeless people. It made my heart happy.”
Fincham said Macdonald was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the service and told her he had turned to drugs to deal with it.
“He was clean and sober when he hung out with me but I know recently he had stated in his always candid and transparent Facebook page that he had used again and was sad and angry with himself. A week later, he had stated he was excited to help facilitate the homeless camp at Fuller Lake, and felt a sense of fulfillment helping people. The world has lost a bright spark and force to be reckoned with.”
John Horn, co-chair of the COVID-19 Vulnerable Population Cowichan Task Force in charge of the family cluster tent site, said Macdonald’s death was cause for reflection.
“At the very start he became involved in helping us set up the tents,” Horn said. “It’s a sobering reminder of how vulnerable people can be. We think maybe we could have done something different.”
The camp is one of five set up in the Cowichan Valley until the end of June to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless community. The Fuller Lake camp, in particular, came under fire from neighbours who said they were not told about the plans until the last minute.
Horn noted there are currently five people staying there. A couple of RV owners who’d been parked around town were invited to set up there as well.
Identification of the site was done in direct response to a provincial government call through BC Housing to assist vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 crisis. On-the-ground service providers such as Cowichan Neighbourhood House helped select the individuals to be temporarily housed there. The sites are staffed by overnight security, with checks during the day. Horn said Island Health provided a Community Outreach and Assessment team to provide and encourage alternative therapies for addicts.
Also referred to as Cart Chris, Macdonald was well-known beyond Chemainus, but especially with the street family in Campbell River. His own Facebook posts documented the personal challenges he was facing.
On May 4, he wrote, “as you are all probably well aware, I returned to addiction for a while. I won’t try to explain, it sounds too much like trying to make excuses, even to me. It should be said that I am now sober again and have been for a couple of months. All I know is that I’ve been avoiding this website (Facebook) for all the wrong reasons and so here I am.
“If I could ask a favour that is not owed to me, it would be this. Please don’t judge me for what has happened, only what I’m doing about it.”
On Feb. 6, Macdonald had been going through a much darker period.
”I’ve allowed my sick mind to lie me into a hole again and I know the only way out is to stop digging,” he wrote. “So I face it no matter what the cost because I know that sobriety without honesty is no stability at all. I need treatment and it doesn’t exist for people like me and so I’m committed to my path of creating it.
“I’ve made my bed and I have to lie in it. My sick mind wants to blame everyone but me. My poor Dad. I can’t wallow in this but I know I have to learn and grow up. I also know that letting others control me and take all my time and resources for themselves while telling me it’s for me is not the answer.
“If I let those people have that power over me then I am just as guilty as they are. Yet so many people have helped me and been there for me it’s hard not to let them break me just to make them feel better. That won’t do anyone any good, least of all me.
“I’ve put myself and everything I’ve worked for in jeopardy and all I can do is keep trying and hope I have the strength to get back to me. I’ve made mistakes but they are just mistakes and I’m going to learn and grow.”