Less than three weeks after a homeless Saint John man lost his life in a tent fire, another is hospitalized after losing his left leg below the knee and half of his right foot as a result severe frostbite.
Jamie Langille, 43, who has lived in a tent in a wooded area of downtown for about three years, said he fell asleep one night with wet feet.
“I usually light a fire at night,” he said, explaining that he burns candles and hand sanitizer in a bucket to keep warm. “And I thawed my whole body. But that night I fell asleep.”
His feet froze, Langille said, and he developed gangrene, the death of body tissue.
A scan confirmed the extent of the damage and doctors announced it would need to be amputated immediately.
“I don’t know how to handle this right now,” Langille, who underwent the surgeries Jan. 19, said from his hospital bed.
“It’s weird that I can walk and run and do anything with both legs, and now I only have one leg and half a foot. And I just don’t know what’s next for me .
“I’m already homeless. I don’t know what to do.
“My mind is racing all over the place and I… It’s a tough time.”
Furious, Catherine Driscoll, a volunteer with Street Team SJ, which provides food and supplies to the homeless, got permission from Langille to post before and after photos of the hospitalization.
“We can’t waste any more time”
The photos showed Langille’s blackened, cold-ravaged feet and the white bandaged stumps left behind.
“This is the ongoing reality of the unhoused community,” she wrote on Facebook, referring to Langille’s amputations and the Jan. 7 accident. death of Evan McArthur, 44, following a fire in a homeless encampment on the north end.
“We can’t waste any more time. No one should lose a limb or their life to be able to meet the basic needs of housing.”
Driscoll, who has checked on Langille every week for the past year and used to check on McArthur, also sent a longer email to Premier Blaine Higgs, Saint John MP Wayne Long, local MPs Arlene Dunn, Trevor Holder and Dorothy Shephard, to Mayor Donna Reardon and city councilors. She thanked those who actively worked to find a solution and urged them to continue moving forward.
“Time is not on our side,” she wrote.
“And since money talks (especially for Prime Minister Higgs..), how much do you think this hospital stay will cost from admission to discharge.”
Langille now relies on a wheelchair, she said.
“This money could have been spent on a solution. We need to start focusing on a thinking ahead approach. This shouldn’t be happening.”
Higgs’ office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
“The fact that he didn’t get anything from him says a lot about his priorities,” Driscoll told CBC News, noting that Higgs lives in Quispamsis, just outside Saint John, where “all of this is happening.” pass”.
“I really hope that he can look at the human side of things and realize that running the province is about more than what he does; that it really has to be brought back to the humans who are part of this province and that he’s supposed to take care of it.”
The Ministry of Social Development declined to comment on Langille’s case on Friday. “Due to strict legal requirements, the Department of Social Development cannot speak about specific cases,” spokesperson Rebecca Howland said in an email.
“Outreach workers, like the Fresh Start team and other service providers, are constantly working to ensure that unhoused people are offered the appropriate services that meet their needs, including the housing programs they may be eligible through NB Housing,” she added.
“We can’t keep talking about it.”
After McArthur’s death “shook” the community and sparked discussions with politicians, Driscoll felt cautiously optimistic about the changes to come.
“It just felt like the ball was finally rolling. And then it happened.”
Driscoll decided to post and send emails about Langille, not to exploit her situation, but to “keep the momentum going” and raise awareness.
How much more suffering must we witness and experience before change actually happens?– Catherine Driscoll, Street Team SJ volunteer
“We need to act. We can’t keep talking about it,” she said. “We really need to find solutions and put something in place as soon as possible.
“Like, how much more suffering do we need to witness and experience before change actually happens?”
She included the photos, she said, because “something has to wake someone up to be able to take this seriously.”
“I think thinking about ‘frostbite’ is one thing. Seeing the photos and seeing the reality is a whole other thing.”
Frostbite isn’t uncommon among homeless people, she said, but Langille’s is the worst case she’s ever seen.
“It’s incredibly sad and frustrating.”
“It should never have come to this.”
“It should never have come to this,” she said, noting that Langille has been on the housing waiting list for a long time and started having problems with his left foot in the winter. last, when he had to have frozen toes amputated.
Last December, he was admitted to hospital with further problems with his left foot, given antibiotics and discharged.
The next time Driscoll and another volunteer stopped by his tent, Langille refused to come out and said he didn’t need anything. “I said to myself, ‘That’s not like him.’ I said, ‘Are you okay? And he said, ‘No, I’m in a lot of pain. I can’t walk.'”
Half of his left foot was black and the skin on his right foot looked “pasty.”
They gave him first aid, wrapped his feet in clean bandages and gave him dry socks, foot warmers and a pair of boots a size too big for his bandaged feet to fit. But within a week or two, the damage progressed so quickly and was so extensive that amputation was the only option, she said.
A call for empathy
Langille said he faces up to a month of recovery and rehabilitation in hospital, including learning to use a wheelchair and hopefully being fitted with prosthetics.
He’s speaking out, he said, because he doesn’t want anyone else to go through what he’s going through or die, like his friend McArthur.
He thinks governments need to invest more money in housing and services for the homeless, such as day warming centers, where they can go while shelters are closed between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and programs “to help them improve.”
“I don’t think they’re taking this seriously enough,” he said.
“I think they think it’s just a big drug epidemic and people are doing drugs and all that, but people are homeless without doing drugs.”
“A lot of people are unlucky.”
Driscoll agrees. “Everyone has a story,” she said, urging people to show kindness and empathy.
“Very soon” on the accommodation list
Langille worked as a journeyman scaffolder from about 2006 to 2007 until 2019, when he retired, he said. His pension was “very low”, so he lived with his mother, but she then got cancer and died in July 2021. His grandmother died a few months later and the rest of his family seemed to drift apart, he declared.
He climbed onto the List by namewhich matches people experiencing chronic homelessness with available housing, but “it takes forever to get placed, I guess.”
According to Driscoll, single men are considered a lower priority.
“Now my (social) worker tells me I’m the next person on the list,” Langille said.
If he has to return to his tent, he doesn’t know what he will do, he said. “I hope that’s not the case.”
For now, he’s just trying to “take it day by day” and focus on his recovery.