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Addiction, not Homelessness, Killed Boston Mike, Sister Says

Boston Mike died in an abandoned truck fire trying to keep warm. His death has sparked a call to action on the homeless issue, but for family members, substance abuse is the root problem.

Michael Bourque was a good looking guy who went to Disney World more than 10 times as a child.

He grew up in a single family home on a dead end street. 

He went camping every summer and grew up in a good home with a supportive and loving family.

When he was 15, there were signs that struggle was ahead.

"Michael did not die on March 18 because he was homeless," his sister, Michelle Bourque, said. "He died because of the grip that substance abuse had on him."

As a family, they tried everything. There were interventions, trips to rehab, counseling. He lived on his own. He moved back home. Family members paid his rent, co-signed apartments, and on and on.

Bourque did manage to graduate from college and had some time living and working independently for a while, "but eventually the substance abuse and possible underlying undiagnosed mental illness began to take control of his life," Michelle said. "We as a family tried everything."

It's easy for many people to scoff at the assertion that addiction is a disease, or that it's someone's choice to drink or take drugs and suggest that Bourque's fate was sealed when he made his decisions.

But those people, his sister said, fail to understand that Boston Mike was the boy next door, the source of crushes, smart, funny. He was a son, a brother, a human who had feelings and aspirations. Despite being clouded by addiction, he was someone's baby, born with promise and potential like your child. Your child, who could break your heart and fall into the hole of addiction just like Boston Mike — no matter how hard you try to stop it.

"I do not blame anyone for Michael's death but the reality is nobody wants to deal with the chronic substance abuser, not the police, not the hospitals, not the homeless shelters," Bourque said. 

Bourque said Michael was kicked out of every apartment, mainly for letting other homeless people stay with him some nights.

No landlord wants homeless people hanging around their properties, Bourque said, so he found himself on the street. The family paid his rent and even co-signed leases to keep him off the street but eventually, "this year, we finally decided as a family that maybe we were the problem."

That decision is one that many families of substance abusers come to when they're finally at their wits end. After years of heartbreak and being let down, the advice of countless counselors and recovery workers starts to ring true: your efforts to support and protect are actually enabling, not helping.

By pulling support, Boston Mike was on the street once again, and that's when he found himself in the homeless shelter this past fall. He seemed to be doing OK for a while.

"They had rules. There was a curfew," Bourque said. 

But the night of his death, he was intoxicated. He called his mother.

"I pissed someone off," he told her. "I'm not sure what I did but I can't stay here."

His last words to his mother: "Don't worry about it. I will figure it out."

"My poor mother did worry about it but she lives two hours away," Bourque said. "She thought he would bring himself to the ER and end up at Phoenix House, which is what he has done the countless other times he called when he found himself in such a situation."

The family will forever pain to think of what they could have done that night save him. They wonder if he could have somehow stayed at the shelter on that 19 degree night, despite what he did. The family was told that he was offered an alternative place to stay the night he was told to leave. They don't blame anyone, but "the reality is nobody wants to deal with the chronic substance abuser," Bourque said.

"Where do they think he was going to go?"

"My brother was human and did not deserve to die that way," Bourque said. "He was someone's child, someone's brother!"

virginia May 02, 2014 at 09:29 AM
To the family I wish to extend my heartfelt sympathies. I understand the ongoing struggles you have faced, and the depth of love and commitment required to stand by someone you love who suffers with a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and mental illness. It is the final loss in a long list of losses for you. May you find some peace and serenity in the years ahead as you learn to accept this sad outcome, and fully embrace the truth that your boy, your brother is finally at peace. Only God will be your judge.
Lori Manzelli May 02, 2014 at 10:07 AM
My heart goes out to all involved. For anyone reading this story and these comments looking for a program for chronic relapsers, I can recommend an agency in Boston called Victory Programs. This agency works with folks who experience multiple relapses and doesn't turn people away who need to come back and receive services. It's important that stories like this get into the news so people can be made more aware of the agencies and services that are available to them.
T.Lees May 02, 2014 at 12:43 PM
Lori glad you posted that. Massachusetts definitely has more resources than ri. My son was turned away countless times due to "his not having insurance" or "because it was not a first time". I've paid for detoxes and rehabs for My son. Thanking god every day for watching over him. It's been 2years clean so far. The longed time since being "thrown away by the Air Force" No medical and no help. Court marshaled and put in prison for 6 months. Right here in the USA. Danvers AFB--23 hrs a day alone in a cell and 1 hour outside-like a murderer or a rapist. That's the thanks he got for his 2 Times in Afghanistan.
Shannon Oliver May 04, 2014 at 11:21 PM
I am so sorry for you and your unnecessary family's lose. We are currently going through the same. My son is in jail right now. Very sad to say but many nights this winter I was relieved. Yes you are right the state of RI is failing.. His story is the same beautiful, smart, loveable ect.. Comes from a single family home educated parents. We are still fighting for him. Also, he was the prodigy grandson and nephew, My husband and I have used every resource including almost all of our savings. I will say and stand by and wish a PROFESSIONAL will see the key is prevention! At 14 or 15 it started but I am sure your mother always knew in her gut that addiction would be an issue so therefore, tools or whatever should be there before the inevitable!!! How many more tears will there be? Why not spend the time before they become addicts. I tried, begged we even gave the state full rein so a 5 stage psychological exam could be done,, Guess what? THEY never did it.. yes we are responsible but its so very hard to do and mentally!!! jeez.. My heart physically hurts for your family. Also, makes me feel hopeless.. hopefull? about my son.. This is just pure iiell.. Will say a prayer for yours.. Hopefully some Dr. will come out of the dark ages and help our children and their family's.. PLEASE! Parents kiss your kids and ya know what love the neighbor kids too because this can happen to you! We are all humans and humans need love!!
joan e griggs July 20, 2014 at 12:38 AM
I JUST WANT TO SAY IM SO SORRY FOR UR LOSS OF UR LOVED ONE AND YES HE WAS SOMEONES SON BROTHER UNCLE FRIEND AND YES HE WAS LOVED MAY HE RIP

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