New Brunswick

Mother of homeless man who died says her son was much more than 'a statistic'

Mary MacDonald says no one deserves to die the way her youngest son, Luke Anthony Landry, died. He struggled with drugs and was released from jail Monday morning with no winter clothing or shelter. Hours later, he was found dead.

Luke Anthony Landry was released from jail last Monday with nowhere to sleep and no winter clothes

Mary MacDonald, seen here with her youngest son, Luke Landry, (wearing the hat) and her middle son, Julian, says Luke may have had his troubles, but he was also a beloved son, brother, father and friend. (Submitted by Mary MacDonald)

Mary MacDonald wants people to know that her son was so much more than a homeless person.

The mother of three, who lives in Prince George, B.C., was heartbroken when she learned her youngest boy had died early Tuesday morning.

Luke Anthony Landry, 35, was found in the public washrooms outside Moncton City Hall after front-line workers were unable to find a shelter bed for him. An emergency worker at the Department of Social Development said a new policy didn't allow for the provision of an emergency hotel room.

"My first information that came through the media was saying, 'Homeless man dead in front of city hall,'" MacDonald said. "And I'm going, like, 'That's my baby.' You know? They can't keep just calling him a homeless person. 

"Luke was a lot more than a homeless person."

He was the father of two beautiful girls, MacDonald said through tears. He was also a son, brother, uncle and cousin and had a large extended family in Cape Breton.

"He was a Christian. He had found God. And he was a rapper of Christian music."

Released from jail that morning

MacDonald said her son, who had been in Moncton for about a decade and was separated from his partner, was released from provincial jail last Monday morning, hours before he was found dead.

"He just got out of jail that morning," MacDonald said, "So he was quite vulnerable. He had no extra clothes. I had sent him $100 and police told me they figured he used it to buy a pair of boots and a pair of jeans."

Luke Landry was released from provincial jail Monday morning with no shelter, and no winter clothing, says his mother. 'Something has to change and has to change fast because we're going into winter,' Mary MacDonald said. (Submitted by Mary MacDonald)

MacDonald said a friend drove her son to a charity, where they thought he would be helped, but that didn't happen.

She wants to see an advocate appointed immediately to ensure people who are released from jail at least have clothing and shelter, so they get off "on the right foot."

"He asked for help and he was turned away and this is the result," MacDonald said. "That's not acceptable. That can't be acceptable in this world."

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety said in a statement that a correctional case manager meets with people before they are released from jail to discuss what clothing they need and what transportation arrangements they have to get to their home communities.

"At times some clients are without stable housing arrangements and their discharge plan includes housing at a shelter when a sentence is completed," said Judy Désalliers, who did not elaborate.

MacDonald is aware that police originally told another family it was their son who was found dead outside city hall.

"This other family was devastated as well, and, I mean, that's horrible."

By not making the proper effort to identify the person who died, "it feels like they treated him like human garbage."

Overdosed earlier in day

MacDonald has tried to piece together what happened to her son in the hours before he died.

He arrived late in the afternoon at the overdose prevention site at Ensemble Greater Moncton, which offers a safe space and support to people who use drugs.

Debby Warren, the executive director, told CBC News on Wednesday that Landry and another client overdosed that same day. First responders were called to help staff at the charity revive him, but Landry was in very bad shape after the near-death experience.

Warren was "gravely" concerned about Landry and spent 90 minutes on the phone contacting shelters, but none were able to accept him.

Debby Warren, executive director of Ensemble Moncton, is brought to tears as she recounts how she and her staff tried to find a warm bed for one of their clients who had overdosed. He was later found dead. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

In a last-ditch effort, she contacted the Department of Social Development's emergency line in hopes it could provide a hotel room but was again turned down. 

"It was crushing," Warren said. "I did not know what to do for this gentleman — I had gone everywhere, I had tried my best to find places for this person to go."

MacDonald said she hasn't received any reports yet about what caused her son's death, but he had been in good health. There is clearly "a very bad drug in Moncton right now," she said.

"I want to tell these people, if you're doing anything, please have somebody with you. And if you're doing something like that, please make sure of what you're taking because this is something no mom or family should have to go through."

Flowers and a note have been placed outside the public washroom where Luke Landry was found dead. The note reads in part: 'A man died here because there was no room at the inn. It's time to end homelessness.' (Shane Magee/CBC)

The reality is that her son "was just thrown on the street," MacDonald said.

"Something is wrong — the system is wrong. There's something wrong that has to be changed to allow people to at least get help. How can they expect somebody to be different?"

Charities, churches and outreach groups have been asking for additional shelter beds from the provincial government for months, and shelters have been telling the Department of Social Development they are over-capacity.

But only after Luke Landry's death did Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard announce that a deputy minister from her department will lead a team tasked with getting "very fast results" this week in Moncton.

Options may include more financial resources or calling in the Red Cross to help faith-based groups, she said.

A Moncton city official said an update would be provided at a council meeting on Monday.

'I want his death to mean something'

MacDonald originally sent her son to Moncton to go to rehab, and although she didn't want to elaborate on his troubles with the law, she said, "everything he ever did wrong was related to drugs."

"I loved him to pieces. I knew of his problems, but it didn't change the fact nobody should have died the way he did."

Mary MacDonald says her son Luke had 'the best smile in the whole world.' Seen here with his two daughters, she is thankful he passed that smile down to his girls. (Submitted by Mary MacDonald)

She said Landry's rapper name was Elekted, and he was well-known in Moncton, trying to help others who were living on the streets.

"He was so smart," MacDonald said. "He never did well in school because he had attention deficit, but he was so smart."

She proudly told the story of how he took a university course in theology in Moncton and, despite only having completed Grade 10, he made the honours list.

"He could quote you from the Bible like nobody I know. And one of his good friends said — one of his posts on his wall was, 'He's the only man I knew who could quote the Bible and Tupac at the same time.'"

Mary MacDonald says this is her favourite photo of her son Luke. She is planning a celebration of his life next summer in Cape Breton, where the family is from and this photo was taken. A memorial service is also planned for Wednesday afternoon at Moncton's St. George's Anglican Church. (Submitted by Mary MacDonald)

MacDonald has taken comfort in the hundreds of posts on her son's Facebook wall, and in how many people also loved him.

"Because homeless people don't necessarily get that love. And he wasn't always homeless … when you would meet this man on the street, when he was not using anything, you would want to stop and talk to him because his eyes, his face just glowed. He had a lot of good things in him, a lot of good things."

"I want his death to mean something. He was a lot more than just a statistic."

A memorial service is planned for Luke Landry on Wednesday at 3 p.m. at St. George's Anglican Church in Moncton.

Mary MacDonald is the mother of Luke Landry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for more than 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

With files from Shane Magee, Jennifer Sweet, Maritime Noon

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