Saint John man missing in Calgary for nearly 80 days found alive

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Saint John man missing in Calgary for nearly 80 days found alive

A Saint John couple never thought they'd be happy to hear that their 24-year-old son was in jail.

But nearly 80 days after Gregg Naves went missing in Calgary, George and Doreen Naves say they are relieved to know he's alive.

It has "lifted a weight off my heart," his father told CBC News on Tuesday morning.

"My hope was getting less and less every day that passed by."

Gregg Naves, who is addicted to drugs and homeless, was arrested Monday night for allegedly shoplifting, according to his parents, who were notified by Calgary police around midnight.

Doreen said she jumped when the phone rang and saw it was the Calgary Police Service calling, not knowing whether it would be good news or bad news.

"The police were sort of chuckling at us because they said they've never called people before that said, 'We're glad…he got arrested.'"

The Naves haven't had an opportunity to speak to Gregg yet. He was "not in very good shape" physically or mentally when he was picked up by police, said Doreen.

She says she was told he was abusing ​fentanyl — a synthetic opioid painkiller estimated to be around 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine and linked to many overdose deaths in Alberta and across the country.

For now, the Naves are focusing on the fact Gregg is safe and hoping to get him into a rehabilitation program in Calgary.

"He's still our son no matter what he does or doesn't do and you want to be able to help your child in any way possible that you can," said George. "You never give up."

Having no contact with Gregg since March 25 has been "heartbreaking" for the couple, who adopted him when he was five months old — an energetic boy with a kind heart who succeeded at whatever he set his mind to.

He has been living out west for about four years, but always kept in touch, usually calling every couple of days, they said.

But things took a dark turn in recent months when he lost his job and his girlfriend. Gregg has struggled with addiction since he was 12 years old. He was sentenced in 2014 to three years in prison for an armed robbery of a convenience store in Barnesville with a pellet gun.

Now he was using again.

At first it was a cough syrup-codeine mix, then methamphetamine and now fentanyl, his parents said.

Last contact 'pretty normal'

Their last call from him three months ago was "pretty normal," said George. Gregg asked them to send him $20, saying it was bus fare so he could visit a friend.

"We helped him out when we could," said George, who works in security and whose wife works in home care.

But the Naves, who have two other adopted adult children and served as foster parents for 25 years, also practised "tough love, trying to do the right things.

"You don't want to give too much money and make a bad situation worse," said George.

Not alone

As the days wore on and Gregg missed his father's birthday, his parents' anniversary and Mother's Day, they feared the worse and wondered what they could have or should have done differently.

"You blame yourself, you know, what did I do wrong?"

They've realized their story is all too common, but many parents are too embarrassed or ashamed to open up about their child's addiction.

Their daughter, who lives in Edmonton and went to Calgary last week, looking for Gregg, found "tent cities" of addicts.

And the officer they're been dealing with told them there's "literally thousands of Greggs out there" and that many of the people in morgues remain unidentified for months because "nobody's called, nobody seems to care," said George.

The Naves filed a missing person report and planned to raise $1,000 as a reward for any information leading them to Gregg.

A Facebook group launched to support the effort, called Find Gregg Naves, has about 900 members. It's been renamed Reunite with Gregg Naves, and a steak and stein dinner and auction fundraiser organized for June 23 at Buccaneer's Pub will go ahead as scheduled, they said.

The money raised will go toward Gregg's rehabilitation — provided he wants the help — and reuniting the family.

The Naves are hopeful. They say he wanted to get into a private year-long rehab program in December, but it required about $3,500 up front, money they simply didn't have at Christmas.

They tried to negotiate a payment plan, but were refused.

Long wait lists

Although there are free programs available in Calgary, they say the wait lists are long.

"When an addict wants to get in and is ready to go in but you hear, 'Sorry, there's nothing's available, it's going to be a couple of weeks for a bed,' by that time, it's too late," said Doreen.

"We need the places where you can just have the resources that you can just, when an addict says, 'I'm down, I'm done, I'm finished, please help me,' you can help them."

One of Gregg's friends also had success with the private program, she said.

"This was the place he wanted to go to … so for us, that's the place we want to get him into."

If Gregg refuses to go for help, or the funds raised exceed the costs, the money will be divided between three Saint John charities the Naves have worked with — the Outflow Ministry men's shelter, MADD Saint John & Area, and The Joshua Group.

The Naves say they are grateful and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they've received, both from friends close to home and from strangers as far away as B.C.

"There's just no words to describe it that complete strangers would donate things to you [for auction] or just saying they care and trying to support us and asking us how we're doing," said George.

"It's truly amazing."