Column: All anyone can do when they need help is ask for it

“I just need help,” she said, as her eyes filled with tears.

Arlene was sitting on a bench at the front of the Langley Times office, dressed in bike shorts and a tank top, and carrying what I presumed to be all her worldly possessions in a backpack, when she looked up at me and uttered those four words.

If you’ve spent much time in the City of Langley, you’ve likely seen her. She lives (and works) on the streets — and has done for years.

She’s slim and blond and always has a bright grin for anyone passing by.

Lately, though, it’s been getting harder for her to smile. Life on the streets has always been a tough slog, but it seems to somehow be getting worse, she told me.

The recent murder of Miles, a homeless Langley man, on a downtown street only served to underscore her point.

“It’s hard,” she said. “You can’t sleep because it’s too dangerous.”

She’s afraid all the time, and she’s had enough.

Like most people living rough, Arlene didn’t end up there by choice. Not really.

“People don’t understand why we’re on the street,” she said.

In her case, it was personal tragedy that proved to be the tipping point.

Arlene’s daughter was almost 13 when she died suddenly in 2001. After that, the Surrey woman’s grief took over.

She attempted to fill the hole left by her lost child with alcohol and cocaine.

Eventually, she ended up on the street,  doing what she had to do, to earn enough money to stay alive and to pay for whatever would keep the demons at bay.

From Surrey, Arlene made her way to the City. She had been sleeping in a tent, but that, she claimed, was taken away by

bylaw enforcement.

Five bikes, which she purchased for $20 each (and, yes, she’s well aware of where they came from) were all stolen in succession.

It’s a problem, she said, because she’s just regaining the ability to walk after her legs were run over by a vehicle last February.

It happened, she told me, as a “bad date” sped off when she jumped out of his truck. That was before he came back and stole her purse.

Released from hospital after a few months, she was back on street. Desperation brought her into the newspaper office on a Friday morning.

Could I write a story? Maybe somebody would read it and offer to help.

What about Gateway of Hope? I asked her. Ishtar? A coworker mentioned a shelter she knew of  in Vancouver.

Every suggestion brought fresh tears and a burst of frustration.

“You don’t understand,” she said.

“I can’t sleep in the same place with other people. I just can’t do it.”

An apartment would cost more than she can pay. She’s on a list for affordable housing, but securing a place could take a year, she said.

Her hope is that someone has a suite they’d be willing to rent to her at an affordable price. Once she’s got a safe place to stay, she said, she can work on addiction recovery in a day program.

Her level of honesty, I felt, deserved an equally honest response.

I told her I didn’t know whether anyone would be willing to take a chance on her.  With her addiction issues and her line of work, it’s a lot to hope that someone would feel they could trust her enough to rent to her.  And she understands that.

But I also told her that she deserves a better life if that’s what she wants, and that I would do what I could to get the word out.

When we need help, all we can do is ask.