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‘Winters were brutal:’ Recovering drug user urges compassion for others in Salmon Arm

Woman who grew up in Salmon Arm and ended up on the streets wants kindness to prevail
Amanda Luttman was born and raised in Salmon Arm and ended up living on the streets due to drug addiction. Her message is one of kindness. (Photo contributed)

Amanda Luttman’s message is kindness.

Luttman knows too well what it’s like to live on the streets of Salmon Arm, to be part of a small network of people who support each other as best they can.

Luttman was born and raised in Salmon Arm. Her addiction to drugs started with smoking pot. In her early 20s, she starting dabbling in MDMA or ecstasy. Although she sometimes drank alcohol, she didn’t drink much, and now, never.

“I still won’t have a drink because I can’t risk it,” she said.

She progressed to cocaine and other drugs. The first time she used methamphetamine was when she was 28 or 29.

“When I used fentanyl, I was hooked instantly. It was mental (addiction) at first. I didn’t need it right away. But I liked it too much, it just turned everything off, it just blanked my mind. I didn’t care about anything. All the guilt and shame in my life was gone.”

In reality, all it did was put a Band-Aid on her pain, she realized.

“I was playing Russian roulette with my life.”

She said a lot of people have used much longer, but she wanted to be a mother to her son again. He’s now nine.

Luttman went through treatment in the Lower Mainland, is now living in housing with women who had similar experiences and is doing well.

“I’m working again. I didn’t ever think I’d be on the streets. I used to have a home with my son. It just progressed…”

Read more: ‘Empathy and compassion’: Councillors say don’t rush to judge homelessness in Salmon Arm

She believes options for help are available, if people could be aware of their mental health.

“That’s a really huge thing. A lot of people use because it’s self medicating, right?

“I have ADD and ADHD. I found that using meth, I was able to focus and do all the things I didn’t have the energy to do… I felt I was like Wonder Woman when I was on it… I could go to work and have all this energy, get my job done; I thought it helped with burnout.”

As Luttman’s addictions began to pick up, she left her son with her mom.

“I felt guilty and I didn’t want to traumatize him, find his mom dead or something like that.”

This was before the Salvation Army’s move to McGuire Lake during Covid, and she’d often stay in the Lighthouse Shelter in the winter. People would line up in the cold and when the doors would open, they’d be given a meal and could have a shower or do laundry. By 8 in the morning, they were back out in the cold.

“Winters were brutal,” she said.

Read more: People without homes in Salmon Arm to get relief from cold with Salvation Army Café

Sometimes she would have blankets hidden in the fairgrounds and might huddle up there. Once she almost died from having propane in her tent with no ventilation.

Most of the restaurants got tired of unhoused people coming in, although one was pretty good, she said.

Luttman said she was kicked out of the shelter a few times for using drugs, or her roommate using, or for being late.

“They have a system – you get kicked out for a day, a week, a month, and then indefinitely.”

She said she still has a bit of resentment when a woman who had been drinking put alcohol in the shelter washroom. Then all the women were kicked out indefinitely and the woman didn’t ‘fess up.’

Luttman received kindness from strangers, such as a person who was doing janitorial duties and let her warm up several times in their supply room.

Vinny Larson, who died in 2020 when his makeshift home caught fire, was a good friend and would allow her to stay at his camp near Buckerfield’s.

Read more: ‘Don’t judge a person’ says friend of Salmon Arm man who died in fire

Luttman squatted near the Canoe Beach dog park in the summer for a while but was on methadone, wasn’t eating, was breathing wildfire smoke and started getting very sick.

A business owner offered to pay her bus fare from Canoe so she could work for him. That tided her over for a while.

She ended up having to leave all her belongings in Canoe, and at other times, in other places.

Some support was available on the streets in Salmon Arm, she said. Outreach workers would check on them, they knew where all the camps were, and would give them snacks and toques in winter.

She said she feels badly about what she put her mother through, who would sometimes try to find her.

Luttman attempted to get clean more than once but relapsed and ended up back on the street. She said getting off drugs was impossible when she was living rough because life was too hard.

She urges kindness for fellow human beings who are struggling.

“Sure you chose to pick up that first drug or first drink. But with addiction, it’s no longer a choice. You do it against your own will. It’s basically what addiction is.

“I feel if people understood that, they would be more compassionate. I wish that there was more shelter out there for people and more options for people to get out of the situation and not have to leave town.”

Read more: 2019 - People who are homeless in Salmon Arm provide consultants with key information

She doesn’t think anyone realizes just how bad the housing situation is in Salmon Arm.

“Bigger cities have more support for the homeless and more awareness. You don’t even have to be using drugs or alcohol. The landlord could be selling your place. Anybody could be out there. It’s hard. People look at you differently. They all know. It didn’t matter how nice I was dressed or did my hair, it felt like everyone knew.”

She was lucky as she had her mom for support, she said. There are people who have no family except the people on the street.

“It’s super hard to leave them. I feel alone out here. I’m not, I have girls in recovery.

“It’s hard to think about them, who’s going to survive, who’s going to die, who’s going to make it out. I know people’s personal stories and not one of them deserve this. I just believe that being kind will make a difference in someone’s life.”

Read more: ‘They need to be in’: Woman who lived rough in Salmon Arm worried about people tenting
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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