LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Imagine returning to an area you grew up in, only to find, the southern hospitality you were expecting wasn't there.
That's the story with Colin Sterling, a DeQuincy native, who's returned home after spending 36 years in the state of Washington which has legalized medical marijuana.
But with THC, the key chemical from marijuana still in his system, he's having problems finding shelter.
While Sterling's story is unique, he is a common example of how some people can and do fall through the cracks of the housing and shelter systems.
"I received my medical marijuana license I think around the summer of 2010," said Sterling.
Because of a disability, Sterling's been approved to use marijuana for medical purposes, "I received the back surgery the L4, L5, S1 fusion in my low back and that was actually to remove the sciatic pain, sciatica. That's why I received it because of the pain."
Sterling now lives disability check to check - $1,591 a month.
With money he saved, Sterling moved to the Lake Area this week, for warmer weather to help with pain, and to reconnect with family, "I do have family that I still want to try to get in touch with and be apart of their lives but my whole family is pretty much strangers to me."
So, he turned to the Salvation Army for shelter.
"Jesus taught compassion and understanding. And so they had to do a breathalyzer test for alcohol. I passed that. They had to do a urine test and I had THC in my system," explained Sterling.
"He failed the drug test so we had to turn him away," said Major David Craddock.
Corps Officer with the Lake Charles Salvation Army, Craddock says they had to because they house recovering alcohol and drug users.
"Because we have a zero tolerance policy, we had to turn him away and say when you get clean, when you can do a clean drug test, then you'd be admitted into our program," explained Craddock.
Sterling says he could understand if he was coming from a state where medical marijuana use is illegal, instead, "I said what you're doing is completely wrong to not house somebody to seek refuge at a Christian organization. I said after all I've been through, I said, unreal."
Even though Sterling quit using two weeks ago, THC can stay in your system for 30 days.
But because so many shelters in the area have the same zero tolerance policy as the Salvation Army, Sterling had to find somewhere else to stay.
So, he found a storage unit, where the owner let him stay a night there. Then, he took his bike and three bags to an inexpensive motel.
"I have $300 in my account right now," said Sterling.
But with money running low, and until the THC is out of his system, he's got nowhere to go.
Craddock adds, "There's really no place we can refer them to. They end up usually back on the street or staying with friends until they're able to come in and show a clean test."
In the meantime, Sterling feels like he's fallen through the cracks, "My country's failed me, my state's failed me. I feel like I don't have a city to go to, I don't know where I can go."
While Sterling could return to the Salvation Army when the THC is out of his system, he says he's already saving up to return back to Washington.
KPLC also did reached out to the Calcasieu Parish Housing Department to see if there were any other avenue's Sterling could pursue. They suggested starting with the 2-1-1 information line to see what, if any, of their programs Sterling could qualify for.
To reach Sterling, email him at email@example.com.