‘They’re stuck in a cycle and there’s no way out’: A mother’s plea to get her son off the streets

'They're stuck in a cycle and there's no way out': A mother's plea to get her son off the streets
WatchPam Sanderson has traveled from Saskatchewan to Victoria to try to get help for her 23-year-old homeless son who she says has serious mental health and addiction issues. April Lawrence reports.

Pam Sanderson has flown to Victoria from Regina, Sask. hoping to see her 23-year-old son Keith Cathcart. But Cathcart is currently in Wilkinson Road jail after being arrested for assault February 5.

“When he’s not using drugs he’s the most incredibly kind, soft-spoken lovable guy but the drugs turn him into something horrible,” said Sanderson.

Growing up in Victoria, Sanderson says her son loved playing football but he struggled with a cognitive disability and has been diagnosed with multiple mental health disorders.

As a teen, she says Cathcart started using crystal meth and heroin and it’s only been getting worse. The 23-year-old has spent the past year either in jail or sleeping outside.

“Calling me day and night in a state of psychosis and starving, freezing, not knowing where he is, scared, really scared,” Sanderson said.

She says she can’t have Cathcart at her home because he has been violent with her in the past, but she says the system is failing him. The problem is, she says her son doesn’t even know he needs help. In a CBC Radio interview just a few days before he went back to jail, Cathcart said he doesn’t believe he’s mentally ill but does do drugs and admits he needs housing.

“I currently do dabble with it yes, crystal meth and heroin but nothing that makes me crazy or anything like that, I’m pretty settled about it,” he said.

“I’m not paranoid and drugs don’t get to me like that, it’s just strictly what’s been going on in the city,” he said.

Sanderson is pleading with government officials to create housing where she could force her adult son to get help. She says she was happy when she heard Nanaimo’s mayor suggest the same thing in December.

At the time Mayor Leonard Krog said he believed people with severe mental health and addiction issues should be institutionalized for their own safety.

Sanderson believes forcing her son into supportive housing would give him freedom, not take it away.

“Because I think they’re in their own little prison out on the street, they’re stuck in a cycle and there’s no way out,” she said.

She says she’s confident if her son could have his mental illness treated, his potential in life would be limitless but if not, she’s just hoping he survives.

“He’s my son and I love him, and I’m doing everything I can to keep him alive.”

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions sent a statement in response:

After decades where mental health and addictions care was neglected, it can be incredibly difficult for people living with severe concurrent mental health and addictions challenges to get treatment throughout B.C. We’ve heard first-hand from people with lived experience, families and frontline healthcare providers that the need for higher levels of mental health and addiction care continues to grow and we’re working as fast as we can to address this gap.  Our government is focused on improving care in communities for people who need more intensive supports so that people can get the care they need.

 Expanding access to quality care, balanced with the need for a continuum of services that respects the rights of the individual continues to be a primary focus for the work we’re doing in partnership with families, people with lived experience, health care professionals and more.      

Sanderson says she won’t stop fighting until her son, and people like him, get the help they need.


April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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