Contributed photo Corey Stevens, an unemployed Alberta oilpatch consultant (Photo contributed)

Oilpatch downturn takes tragic toll on lives of those affected

Five friends of Red Deer man have taken their lives

Corey Stevens, an Alberta oilpatch consultant in Red Deer hit hard by the industry downturn, does not know where he’ll be living at the end of May, or how he’s going to make ends meet under a burgeoning debt load.

In a few days he will have no place to live as the rent for a room he lives in is going up, and he cannot afford it. Not that long ago, Stevens, 45, was making more than $100,000 annually. This week he has $200 to his name, and trying to get by doing odd jobs like helping a friend plant trees.

The toll that the oilpatch decline has taken on him has been far more than financial.

I’ve had five friends since November take their own lives because of the downturn.” They are around his age, from Central Alberta, had their livelihoods tied to the oilpatch, and had families, including children. He worked with all of them. The most recent death was in February.

While some people have found new jobs in the oilpatch lately, Stevens said he’s in a category where employers don’t want to hire him because of his previous high wages.

“You go to apply for those kind of jobs and they won’t hire you because they know as soon as you get a call that you’re leaving, so they don’t want to invest the time, which is understandable.” He’s applied elsewhere, such as in construction, and gets the same response.

Stevens admits he’s struggled himself emotionally but keeps going because of his mother, sisters and daughter. “I’ve lost everything.” “It’s all gone and I’m so far behind in my child support, I’m working odd jobs just to keep everything afloat. I’m behind in my bills.” He vows to not apply for social assistance.

“You always try and stay hopeful and help other folk while you’re down, right? Takes your focus off the bad stuff that’s going on.”

He didn’t go to any of the funerals of the five men because over the past two years four family members have passed away. “It gets to be too much.”

Stevens has only a Grade 9 education, and quit school to help out his family. He’s worked in the oilpatch for 27 years and has thought about doing something different, but because of the debt he is in now, the only way he can pay it off is through the oilpatch “because nothing else pays enough”, he said.

He is behind on his truck payments but needs his truck to work. “I’ll probably end up selling most of my stuff and just keeping my bed, and go from there.”

Consultants are not able to collect employment insurance. Stevens had savings at one time but he hasn’t worked steady for a long time. “I’ve worked three months since December 2015.”

He doesn’t believe that the men he knew who took their lives got the help they needed.

“I’ve just found there’s no outreach for men to go to … There’s always a place for women and children and that’s understandable, that should be first. But it’s sad seeing these men that provide for their families their whole lives and then they end up losing everything.”

He said that when he was working, he didn’t have high debt, and he was managing to pay almost $8,000 a month in child support and alimony. He said he won’t qualify to get that changed until November.

“The oil and gas industry, we were the Texas of Canada.”

barr@reddeeradvocate.com

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