Galven Young is a self-described reformed addict who has spent time in several recovery houses in the Lower Mainland.
Now employed as a support worker at an abstinence-based recovery centre in Chilliwack, B.C., Mr. Young says he has seen many such facilities, from provincially registered ones that provide structured programs and healthy meals to unregistered homes in which illicit drug use is routine and food in short supply.
But until you are in the door, it is difficult to know what to expect, he says.
"The clients are people who may be looking at going to jail and so they pull the recovery card. They say, 'I'm going to go into treatment and do better,' " Mr. Young says.
That outcome is not guaranteed – in part, critics maintain, because the system in B.C. is fragmented, poorly funded and lacks regulatory oversight.
Support recovery homes are small residential facilities with fewer than a dozen beds that provide housing and treatment for people with addictions.
An April report on support recovery homes by the Community Action Initiative, a provincial agency that funds mental-health and substance-use programs, found concerns exist about whether the facilities are registered or not.
The agency also found "clients and families lack sufficient knowledge about what a registered support recovery home should offer. For example, a complaints process, fire safety measures, psychosocial programming, etc."
In that report, the agency included several ideas for boosting capacity in the sector, including public education on the standards and guidelines of the province's Assisted Living Registry, which regulates residences such as the recovery houses and seniors' homes.
In Surrey, which has grappled with problems related to scores of unregulated recovery homes, planning manager Jean Lamontagne recommended that council support further study by the CAI to develop comprehensive provincial framework for the facilities.
"Unfortunately, the current system of regulation through the [assisted living registry] and per diem funding through the ministry of social development is not creating a province-wide recovery house system that individuals, families, communities, and health, social service and justice system referral agencies can trust," Mr. Lamontagne said in a letter dated May 25.
Such concerns date back more than a decade. Between 1998 and 2001, the province required recovery homes to be licensed. That requirement was lifted in 2001 to reduce red tape and operating costs.
That resulted in a flurry of new homes and complaints that some offered a roof and little else.
In 2013, the province introduced a program that allowed recovery houses to register through the ALR.
Operators that register commit to provide certain services, and become eligible for provincial funding of $30.90 a day for each client who is on social assistance, from whom they also usually collect $550 a month.
Currently, 98 recovery homes are registered, and 31 registrations are in process.
Under the new regime, recovery homes must register if they offer at least one "personal assistance" service, such as courses in anger or stress management, and five "hospitality" services, including meals and a 24-hour emergency response system.
"Houses that do not offer this level of service – regardless of what they call themselves – are not supportive recovery homes," Ministry of Health spokeswoman Cindy MacDougall said in an e-mail. "These [unregulated] homes are bound by municipal and criminal laws."
Mike Starchuk, a Surrey city councillor who is a former chief fire prevention officer in the city, campaigned last year on the issue of unregulated recovery homes.
He supports the provincial registry, but wants to see more, including requirements for recovery homes to obtain a city business licence, and more resources for spot inspections.
Under the current system, he says, some operators are doing the paperwork to obtain registration and meet requirements but not necessarily following through with programming and services.
"It gives the city a tool," he says. Currently, he said, some unscrupulous operators can invest enough money to ensure their buildings meet fire safety requirements and can pass an initial inspection, but then operate a home in which residents are allowed to continue using or even selling drugs while the owner collects the government money.
Mr. Starchuk would like to see more resources devoted to inspections to stop such abuse.
"They [the registry] really need some bodies and some help to do what they are supposed to do," Mr. Starchuk says.
In spite of all the problems, many people say they had good experiences in recovery homes.
Mr. Young said he benefited from his treatment at Vision Quest, as do many others.
"For me, this place has saved my life," he said. "And I know I'm not the only person here who would say that."