By Don Evans
Special to the Gazette
I sat down to lunch in the Our Place dining room recently to chat with several of the people who rely on us for their daily meals. To be honest, it’s one of my favourite parts of the day, as it allows me to connect directly with the men and women for whom Our Place is there to help.
One man, in particular, caught my attention and we began to talk. He was down on his luck, using drugs to mask his pain, but glad for the bowl of homemade soup, salad and bread on offer that day. When I asked what was bothering him, he said he knew he was going to end up back in prison soon because he was starting to commit crimes to feed his drug habit. He had tried short-term treatment programs in the past, but none had worked and he didn’t know where to turn.
This is a story that I hear too often. Someone suffering on the street, dealing with his or her addiction, only to get involved in criminal activity and end up in prison.
Now, in my opinion, this is where the story should change. This is where a team of addiction specialists and mental health workers get involved, dig down to the root of all that pain, and transform a life.
Unfortunately, that isn’t reality.
Instead, our incarcerated individual goes through periods of withdrawal mixed with periods of feeding his addiction through any means necessary. Boredom makes the cravings worse. Anything to escape the walls of his own torment.
When released, our individual has no new skills, no new methods of coping with his lot in life or solutions for his addiction. And so he ends up back on the streets, seeking out drugs and escape, getting involved in crime, and returning into the arms of the law.
This cycle needs to end.
And, more importantly, Our Place has a plan.
As many of you know, Our Place became heavily involved in ending the tent city crisis in 2016 by managing two additional facilities on top of the transitional housing and shelter beds we already operate. Those facilities are My Place on Yates Street (transitional home; 40 indoor tents); and Choices in View Royal (transitional home; 50 rooms).
As more permanent housing comes on line via BC Housing, we will soon be closing down My Place. By the end of 2017, we plan to have moved every resident at Choices into permanent housing. So the question becomes, what does the provincial government do with Choices, that wonderful space once occupied by the Youth Detention Centre?
Our Place envisions transforming Choices into a Therapeutic Recovery Community. Working with Island Health, BC Housing and the judicial system, I believe that together we can make a positive impact in our community by ending this vicious cycle of homelessness to jail and back to the street.
Our vision is multi-faceted and intended to deliver a long-term recovery program in a safe, structured, therapeutic environment guided by professional staff. This therapeutic community will provide a cost effective path to recovery, and address the comprehensive, holistic, bio-psycho-social and ecological perspective of addiction, homelessness and criminality.
Our goal is that every individual who graduates from this program will be in control of their addiction, have a place to live, a job, and all the life skills necessary to not only survive in the wider community, but to thrive in it.
We want to offer the opportunity of participating in the therapeutic community to the family Our Place currently knows and serves, and to others in the community who live in poverty, are marginalized, and are part of the hardest to reach population. We aim to accept referrals from BC Provincial Court (an offender may request entry as an alternative to a traditional custodial sentence); BC Corrections (individuals completing custodial sentences, who would otherwise return to the streets, have the opportunity to choose the Our Place Therapeutic Recovery Community); and Island Health (homeless individuals, who have undergone detox and stabilization, will be referred to the Therapeutic Recovery Community).
We are still in the early stages of working with our government partners and private donors to ensure we have the necessary funding and assurances, but, personally, I am very excited about the possibilities.
When I shared our vision with provincial court Judge Ernie Quantz, he summed it up best: “The Our Place Therapeutic Recovery Community will provide a realistic alternative to incarceration. Enhancing the rehabilitative aspect of an offender’s sentence will provide long-term benefits to society and the individual.”
Do you share our vision and want to help? If so, I would love to hear from you.
Don Evans is executive director for Our Place Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.