Thursday, January 9, 2014


Turning point - Many politicians and addictions stakeholders were on hand for a groundbreaking Dec. 18 at the site of a women’s addictions recovery house slated to open adjacent to Murdo Frazer Park in the spring. Turning Point Recovery Society executive director Brenda Plant; North Van-Lonsdale MLA Naomi Yamamoto; District of North Van Mayor Richard Walton, Vancouver Coastal Health mental health and addictions director Elizabeth Stanger; North Van MP Andrew Saxton; West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan; Turning Point Recovery Society board chair Gary Schubak and District of North Van Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn.

At the height of her alcohol addiction, North Shore resident Jane couldn’t shake her self-destructive routine of drinking on the way to work and “getting hammered” on the return trip home.

There was a specific route that she would take — one that purposely took her past a liquor store near Lonsdale Quay. Living on her own at the time, Jane (not her real name), lacked a solid support system to help her break the vicious cycle of alcohol abuse.

“I was losing track of days because I blacked out a lot,” she recalls. “The consequences were getting worse. I found myself in the drunk tank and had no idea how I got there.”

Four years ago, Jane who was now broke, finally hit rock bottom and was ready to seek treatment. It was through her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor that she learned of the Turning Point Recovery Society — which operates addiction treatment facilities in Vancouver and Richmond.

Jane stayed at the Vancouver recovery house where, for three months, she received counselling, took yoga classes and learned life skills. There were chores that she would have to complete each week. And, at the end of the day, she was in a safe place — free from the lure of a seemingly innocuous glass of wine.

While in residential treatment, Jane made a connection with one counsellor in particular who inspired her to go back to school. Essentially, says Jane, Turning Point put her back on the right path to a healthy and happy life.

“I feel like I have even more tools,” Jane explains. “It’s a long journey, it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Jane is just one of the 30 per cent of Turning Point clients that have come from the North Shore in the past five years. Soon, those struggling with addiction will be able to receive treatment at a residential facility on this side of the water.

Doug MacKay-Dunn felt a little lighter at the groundbreaking last month for Turning Point’s new women’s addictions recovery house set to open adjacent to Murdo Frazer Park in the spring. The District of North Vancouver councillor has been championing for the North Shore’s first-ever public drug and alcohol recovery centre for over a decade.

In 1999, MacKay-Dunn — a former Vancouver Police Department inspector and one-time Downtown Eastside beat cop — helped establish the North Shore’s first substance abuse task force.
The strong advocate of detox and rehab programs that provide increased support for the families sees a correlation between these addiction support services and the reduction of both violent and property crimes.

“I’ve talked about it being the only answer, as far as I am concerned, to deal with this ballooning drug and alcohol addiction problem,” says MacKay-Dunn.

The problem has hit home for his family. MacKay-Dunn’s daughter had her cellphone stolen while she was riding the bus in North Van. The thief was a 16-year-old, drug-addicted criminal with a “significant” crystal meth dependency, according to MacKay-Dunn.

Now that a women’s treatment facility is on the way, MacKay-Dunn will concentrate his efforts on bringing a similar addictions recovery program for youth to the North Shore.

“This is a problem that is going to be significant,” says MacKay-Dunn of substance abuse among youth. “There are impacts on the criminal justice system, because we are not dealing with the root cause. More and more young people have a huge problem with mental health deficits, some of which has been brought on by the use of drugs.”

Turning Point executive director Brenda Plant says she welcomes those discussions for a youth facility on the North Shore. The recovery society currently operates two men’s and two women’s facilities.
Plant says the decision to open a women’s only facility in North Van was dictated by the results of a needs assessment conducted by Turning Point two years ago.

“Research shows women are more vulnerable when they are in the community and homeless with an addiction issue,” explains Plant.

At the same time, Turning Point also faced opposition from some area residents for the recovery house site at 2670 Lloyd Ave.

“There is still, sadly, misperception about people in recovery from addictions,” says Plant. “We have encountered a lot of NIMBYism. We felt there would have been greater acceptance of a women’s shelter.”

Plant says, well it would be nice to think there are neighbourhoods that are exempt, the reality is addiction does not have boundaries — geographical or otherwise.

Recent Statistics Canada numbers on mental health and addiction validate her point: One in 10 Canadians struggle with, in some cases, several mental health or substance use disorders.

The approximately $2 million capital cost for the North Van recovery house project is being partially funded by all three levels of government and private donors.

While the district is providing Turning Point with the land, DNV park property, at a substantially reduced lease rate, the federal and provincial governments are contributing $250,000 each for a total of $500,000. Meanwhile, Vancouver Coastal Health will provide $40,000 in annual operational funding for program operations onsite.

North Van MP Andrew Saxton attended the facility’s groundbreaking and later told The Outlook via email of the significance of this project for the North Shore community.

“It will provide much needed housing support for women trying to turn their lives around while recovering from addictions and substance abuse,” said Saxton. “Addictions and substance abuse cost the Canadian economy billions of dollars each year and have a huge human cost as well, affecting thousands of Canadian families. It’s estimated that the Canadian healthcare system spends over $1.2 billion each year treating substance abuse.”

When asked about Turning Point’s success rate with addiction recovery, Plant explains how that’s measured along a continuum.

“It isn’t just about abstinence, it’s helping people get integrated back into the community,” says Plant, adding that 75 to 80 per cent of residents are still clean and sober a year after leaving Turning Point.
For Jane, who in her mid-40s, Turning Point put her on a new path, one that includes earning a university degree and a circle of friends.

“Most importantly, I have peace of mind,” says Jane. “I’m not waking up with the incredible feeling of guilt and the ball and chain of addiction.”

From the North Shore Outlook.


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