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Hockey mom’s death prompts focus on B.C. recovery homes

As part of Welcome Home’s program, recovering addicts like 24-year-old Brandon Helwani work at a Newton Price Pro store in Surrey, B.C.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

In the days that followed the beating death of Julie Paskall outside a Newton recreation centre, area residents spoke about a litany of public-safety concerns, including poor lighting, insufficient police presence and break-ins to homes and cars.

Some also cited recovery houses, which can offer a lifeline to people addicted to drugs and alcohol, but can also be a source of complaints about drug dealing and other safety issues.

Over the past decade, recovery houses have also been a bone of contention between provincial and city governments. Under then-premier Gordon Campbell, the Liberals deregulated recovery houses in 2001, resulting in what city officials say was a surge in unregulated, poorly run facilities.

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"Anyone can open up and call themselves a recovery house and fill it up with people, and we don't find out about issues until it [the facility] becomes a problem," Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said on Monday.

Cities can use occupancy restrictions or other safety bylaws to crack down on problem facilities but lack other ways to regulate them, she said.

Problems have included instances of drug dealing and financial abuse, she said, adding that the problem exists across the province.

The province began registering assisted living facilities for mental health and substance use in 2013.

Provincial health and social development ministries "worked together to create this registration system after seeing examples of abuse at some supportive recovery houses," according to an e-mail from the Ministry of Health.

If facilities are not registered, they are not eligible to get daily stipends the province pays to people who are on some form of income support and are living in recovery facilities.

There are 55 supportive recovery houses registered in B.C. – about 30 of those in Surrey – with another 45 in the application process.

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Unregistered homes may call themselves supportive-recovery facilities, but do not provide the same level of care, the ministry said.

The new regulations do not do enough to rein in unscrupulous or unsafe operators, says NDP MLA and mental-health critic Sue Hammell.

"There are still a large number of [recovery] houses that are unregulated, unsupervised and have no certification," Ms. Hammell said.

Welcome Home Society currently operates four group homes in Newton and is building a new, 100-bed facility nearby.

Some people who are enrolled in Welcome Home's program planned to attend a public meeting in Newton on Monday evening at which area residents were expected to discuss public-safety concerns, Welcome Home director Bill Koonar said.

Welcome Home is in the process of applying for registration with the province but already sought and obtained zoning approval for its new, larger residential facility.

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"We are being coloured with the impression that all recovery houses are the same," Mr. Koonar said. "Most recovery houses, a lot of them, are for money. They are flophouses. They don't have any structured program. People come and go as they please … we understand why people would be upset about a recovery home, if that's what you call a recovery home."

At Welcome Home, people sign on for a two-year term, although not all of them make it through that entire time. The retention rate is about 75 per cent, Mr. Koonar said. As part of their program, they work at the nearby Price Pro store, which over time is supposed to subsidize the residential treatment program.

While in the program, participants typically do not have access to cash. They hand over wallets, purses and identification when they arrive, their work at Price Pro is unpaid and Welcome Home does not allow registrants to collect social assistance while they are in the program.

The people who commit to staying in the program are unlikely to be buying drugs on the street because they don't have money and, in the early stages of the program, are accompanied by a "buddy."

"I think our facility will be quite a healthy addition to the neighbourhood," Mr. Koonar said.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More


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