In the eight months since the wildfires, and his disappearance, David Jeff has never been far from my mind.
Whether I’m in the local arena where he used to sit and watch hockey out of the cold, or just driving around the streets of Williams Lake, I miss seeing him.
I first met David Jeff in 1997 when he was in the prisoner’s box in provincial court, awaiting his fate for a string of alcohol-related crimes.
Provincial Court Judge Tom Smith, the sitting judge at the time, realized there were few options in the system for a guy like Jeff. He listed off the many challenges that faced him in life and the need to look for alternatives other than jail.
In the end, Smith settled on a conditional sentence with an electronic monitoring bracelet with strict orders that Jeff reside at Abraham’s Lodge where Sara Spring-Stump always had a room for him and was ready to care for him.
When I visited him there 20 years ago, Jeff was happy and smiling, showing me his bracelet which kept track of him, and his most prized possession, his guitar.
Sara helped Jeff stay out of trouble until she passed away.
Since then Jeff has remained a familiar face in the community, which rallied to care for him in the absence of Sara.
Police officers often looked out for Jeff, as did his friend Wayne Lucier.
Jeff wasn’t homeless, having moved into Jubilee Place with supports, but he did spend much of his time on the city streets, in Boitanio Park where volunteers would feed him lunch on Sundays and in the arena when the weather was bad.
Most times he was a gentle soul with a big smile. He still got into trouble with the law sometimes, but everyone knew Jeff and did the best they could to help him.
One professional in the system did tell me Jeff was a residential school survivor. They said if he just went on record about what happened to him, he would have received compensation from the government. He could never bring himself to talk about it, that I know of.
He suffered a lot yet asked for nothing in his life.
His death, arising from being lost in the shuffle of the wildfires, is a tragedy and one I won’t ever forget.
– Angie Mindus, Williams Lake Tribune