A memorial sprang up this weekend on a downtown Victoria street, as friends and family tried to find a way to remember a young man who died alone, after overdosing on fentanyl-laced drugs.
28-year-old Mikey Holben death comes amid growing concern about overdoses in the city, and calls for action.
Friends and family placed flowers, and a blue cardboard message wall at the bottom of a secluded Fort Street stairwell where he was found dead May 25th.
Holben grew up in Colwood. His parents Greg and Tracy admit he grew up watching them struggle with heroin addiction.
“He grew up hating it,” said Greg Holben. “He didn’t like us using at all.”
The Holbens say Mikey was fiercely independent, moving out on his own at 15, determined to live his own life.
They say Mikey held down steady jobs, with the Downtown Victoria Business Association as a street cleaner, and as a security guard at a Jame Bay hotel, and always kept a roof over his head.
Holben also stayed close to his lifelong friends from Colwood, including some who have struggled with homelessness.
“He was an amazing friend who would always have your back,” said Randall Thorson, who first met Holben when the two were five years old.
“He was a clown, when you needed a laugh you needed a smile, he was there,” said Nicole Gilbeault, also a close childhood friend. “He was also a protector.”
Despite the pain drugs had caused in his own life, friends say Holben used them on and off.
But his sudden death from a fentanyl-related overdose has left the people closest to him struggling to understand.
“Why is it being put into these drugs,” said Gilbeault. “Why [are] so many of my friends and so many people I know dying. It’s not okay.”
Concern about rising numbers of overdose deaths has been growing, with an increasing percentage involving fentanyl.
The province recently declared a public health emergency over a spike in fatal overdoses. And earlier this week, advocates calling for a supervised consumption site in Victoria placed 600 wooden crosses along Pandora Avenue, one for every fatal overdose expected in BC this year.
Mikey Holben’s friends and family say they want to warn drug users about the dangers of fentanyl-cut drugs.
“Stay the hell away from it. It’s killing people and you know killed my best friend,” said Thorson.
And while the memorial’s words will now go with Holben’s parents, his friends hope its message stays with everyone who saw it.
That no matter how it ended, Mikey Hoben’s life mattered.