Wendell Smitheram and Christopher Billy were shopping at FreshCo on Monday when they noticed their van was on fire.
The two men left everything at the store and ran out, but it was too late: their van and all their belongings were gone.
“We had all our gear, everything, in there. We had all of our blankets, all of our cooking supplies, we had our own groceries, all of our merchandise,” said Billy, 58, of Quesnel. “Now we are homeless and living in a sack.”
The men had stopped at 100 Mile House, hoping to make some money, en route to Kamloops where they planned to spend the summer picking mushrooms. They left their van at the South Cariboo Visitor Center just before 6:30 p.m. Monday after picking up recyclables and went shopping.
About 15 minutes later, while at the checkout, Billy said customers started talking about the smoke coming from the visitor center and he left to investigate. When he heard it was a car fire, Smitheram followed him, worried about his van as it was the only one in the parking lot when they left.
The men fled, leaving the groceries behind.
“I came back to the visitor center and saw it burning,” said Smitheram, who had previously lived in Anahim Lake and was the registered owner of the van. “It was home, everything we had was in there. Now we are down to a mountain bike and not much else.
Smitheram had lived in the van all winter and had lost most of his material possessions, including his computer and driver’s license. Billy lost his clothes, his guitar and his mountain bike.
A woman known to police has been arrested in connection with the fire. Her name has not been released as she has not yet been formally charged. Smitheram said he and Billy knew the suspect and invited her to go mushroom picking with them.
The Canadian Mental Health Association housed the men in a local motel and provided them with donations from the community, including cash and gift cards. Smitheram also collected bottles to earn money to help support themselves.
“We are grateful to the people who have helped us here, but it is difficult. We’re so used to cooking on our own and doing our own thing,” Billy said. “It’s hard to reach out when you haven’t really done it before. It is difficult to ask for help, but we are short of money.
The pair left 100 Mile House Thursday on a bus bound for Kamloops. Billy said they plan to regroup, get a new driver’s license for Smitheram and hopefully be able to start picking mushrooms. They hope that the money from Smitheram’s insurance will allow them to buy a new van.
Melonie Eva, who works at ACSM and helped the two men, said that this time of year ACSM’s homeless outreach program needed tents, sleeping bags and groceries. non-perishable. These items can make a difference for those who suddenly find themselves homeless, like Billy and Smitheram. Donations are accepted at the ACSM office at 555 B South Cedar Avenue.
“Every little bit counts,” Smitheram said. “Anything I can’t use, I’m sure I’ll meet someone who can the way things have been for the past few years.”
100 mile house