Forty or more people stood quietly in a half circle behind the Port Alberni Friendship Center early in the morning on Sept. 1, remembering their relative and friend, Russell Seeber.
A cross pounded into the ground at the bottom of a large tree marks the place where Seeber’s life ended tragically after a 48-hour standoff with RCMP. Friends have left offerings in Seeber’s memory.
“He was a lost soul,” said a woman who welcomed him into her family when he was 21 years old. “He had a really rough life.”
Those gathered in the early morning chose to remember the positives, sharing brief stories of how Seeber touched their lives. One talked about sharing many conversations with him while sitting on a makeshift bench formed by a fallen log, underneath the tree.
“I’m holding onto the good memories we shared,” another said. “He was a good person. He always stood up for me. He was a really good guy and it’s such a shame. He will be missed.”
Some talked about Seeber’s struggles with addiction and his mental health, saying he did try and ask for help. “It’s so hard to get into treatment.”
Many of the people gathered were health care, mental health outreach or social workers and volunteers who had all known Seeber and tried to help him—many in his final days. A family member said he was glad to see so many people come out to show their support for Seeber and his family.
Later, Alice Sam of the Grassroots Homelessness Coalition Society talked about the difficulties of getting immediate help for people in crisis, beyond what first responders do. She said the Alberni Valley needs a 24-hour crisis response team that can advocate for people who need help right away.
Sam spends her time speaking with and advocating for people who live on the streets in Port Alberni, and with those who are deep in the throes of addiction. She said she has spoken with people who want help and have been told there is a two- to three-month wait.
She said it’s worse for Indigenous people who have become lost on the street. “There’s so many things that should be in place for post-residential school, post-day school. It’s frustrating.”