They have gone from a life on the streets of Moncton to cleaning them up.
Mark Blackburn and Korlaia Paul have overcome homelessness, beaten addiction, and now have affordable housing and full-time jobs.
Blackburn fought for approximately twenty years.
Addicted to crack, he often stayed in the city’s abandoned buildings.
“I had no idea about the future. The only thing he thought about was drugs,” Blackburn said. “I was desperate every day. “I thought there was no way out.”
Paul’s problems began in high school.
Over time, he gave up alcohol and speed to crack cocaine.
“As soon as I put my lips on that pipe, that was it,” Paul said. “It got to the point where I burned so many bridges that I lost connection with my children and my family. “My brothers and I have had a very close relationship and I let the addiction take over.”
The couple has been sober for almost two years and works for Moncton Centre-Ville’s Downtown Environmental Team.
They are part of a downtown beautification team that cleans sidewalks, parking lots, areas around shelters and any places frequented at night.
They also collect trash and needles left behind.
“For me it is gratifying because I can talk to people. I can help people, but at the same time it’s heartbreaking to see people who are homeless, where I’ve been homeless, where I’ve been in addiction,” Blackburn said.
They both credit the staff at the Harvest House shelter on High Street for helping them get clean and constantly reminding them that they were not a failure.
Harvest House CEO Marc Belliveau said the couple has had an incredible journey.
“It really shows that if you don’t give up hope, you can change your life,” Belliveau said.
“They took steps on their own to address sobriety, try to find employment, try to find housing and be able to take the steps that a lot of people would like to take, but haven’t had the courage or the ability to do so yet.”
Patrick Richard, executive director of Downtown Moncton Centre-Ville, said it was not his intention to always hire Harvest House workers, but it just so happened that they were partnering with them and were looking for positions and Paul and Blackburn were looking for the job .
“They’ve been great ever since. They do an incredible job,” Richard said. “They’ve gone from sleeping on the streets, sleeping in the Harvest House shelter, being on welfare, things like that. “They are completely independent at this point.”
Having similar backgrounds brings the couple closer together.
“We both went through the same things. Both despair, both hopelessness. Now we can support each other and look back and say, ‘Hey, we’re through this,’” Blackburn said.
Paul doesn’t want to lose what she has and said Blackburn has helped her stay sober.
“If I find a pipe, it’s difficult. It becomes difficult, but at the same time I think, ‘Well, I wouldn’t accept it.’ I wouldn’t have my job. I wouldn’t have affordable housing,’” Paul said.
They have a message for those who have not yet found the way.
“It’s easier said than done, but it’s worth it,” Paul said. “We’ve had so many doors open for us.”
Blackburn doesn’t want people to lose hope.
“There is another life besides addiction and everyone can live it,” Blackburn said. “It’s a struggle and you don’t think there’s a light at the end of the road, but there definitely is a light at the end of the road.”
“We are living proof that we can move on and live a regular, normal and rewarding life.”