Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hope for BC's Youth with Addictions

With the opening of the Crossing @ Keremeos, BC’s youth impacted by addictions will now be able to attend long-term residential treatment in their home province.

Thanks to the tireless and Herculean efforts of From Grief to Action. The parent-run organization for young people with addictions is an inspiration and an example of “ParentPower”in action and collaboration with the Central City Foundation.

Kudos to the BC government for kicking in $2 million for the program. But a BIG thumbs down to the Conservative government for not stepping up with a dime. While they’re contemplating massive “bailouts”(aka corporate welfare packages) to those corporations bellying up to the taxpayer trough, how about a measly $300,000 to help young people like the inspirational and brilliant Roberta (see article below)?

Or how about a little demonstration of corporate social responsibility and a donation from some BC corporations who see the benefits to this program to complete the necessary capitals costs? This is the kind of tax donation that gives & gives lives back to so many.

With residential treatment, support and care, many youth are able to overcome their addictions, other issues and marginalization. Those of us who have worked with young people, families and adults impacted by addictions, concurrent disorders and poverty, know that this kind of residential treatment can help individuals overcome barriers to healthy living, help them meet their potential and contribute to the well-being of others and their communities. Way to go BC!

B.C. opens first long-term addiction treatment centre for

Long-term residential treatment for young drug addicts to open this month
Lori Culbert, January 3, 2009. Victoria Times Colonist.

British Columbia opens its first long-term residential treatment program for youth this month, which means young people addicted to drugs can finally get help here instead of being flown to Central or Eastern Canada.

Forty-nine young people from B.C. have been sent to Quebec, Ontario or New Brunswick over the last three years to seek residential treatment, as part of a pilot project run by the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health boards. That is expected to stop January for drug addicts aged 14 to 24.

Roberta Watt was raised in Vancouver but when her drug habit got out of control in 2006, she flew to Montreal to attend an 11-month treatment program run by Portage, the same non-profit rehabilitation agency that will operate Keremeos.

Today, Roberta, 20, is a self-confident young women who is clean and healthy, working and studying, and just jazzed by life.

Little more than two years ago, you might have seen her on East Hastings and dismissed her as dysfunctional and despondent.

"I was such a sick little girl inside this addict: I'm lost, I'm lonely, I'm scared inside, but I have such a big ego that I won't let you see it," Roberta recalled.

She attributes her turn-around, in part, to Portage, whose philosophy is to encourage personal achievement with the support of family and friends, as well as peers who are also in recovery.

The Crossing at Keremeos is the result of nearly a decade of determined efforts by From Grief to Action, a group of Vancouver parents with children with addictions, and the Central City Foundation, a non-profit organization that is raising $6.5 million for the capital costs of the project.

The foundation is $250,000 short of reaching its goal.

The $2.4 million annual operating costs will be shared by the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health boards.

Heather Hay, Vancouver Coastal Health's director of addictions services, said the Portage program has had an "amazing" impact on the youth who have been sent east.

"They are instilled with hope, they are reconnected to community, many of them have been reunified to family, they have found something to do, either re-engaged with school or work," Hay said. "They have been able to find a place where they belong. They have improved self-esteem and developed resiliency to make improved life choices."

One of them is Roberta.

"I met her in treatment, I met her before treatment, I met her after. So I've seen her through her whole trajectory. It's amazing. She is just vibrant," Hay said. "It's not been an easy journey but she's worked hard, and she really has gained a a tremendous amount of insight. It's amazing."


Roberta was raised in Dunbar by her supportive father, a successful businessman. She was a pretty girl with good marks and many friends, but began dabbling in drugs the summer before she started at Point Grey secondary.

"Before walking into the doors of high school for the first day I was already smoking pot," the frank, engaging young woman recalled in a recent interview.

Her father trusted Roberta and accepted her experimentation with pot, since she told him it was minor and that she was keeping up her marks.

"Our trust was so deep. We were a powerhouse team, me and him," she recalled. "But I became more selfish, and I abused that trust. He gave me an inch and I took a mile."

Roberta's childhood was not one of poverty, but it is no secret that drugs know no economic or geographic boundaries. Most people are driven to use by some internal or external factor.

In Roberta's case, one of the most compelling circumstances was that her own mother, who came from a dysfunctional background, struggles with her own drug addiction.

"Having an addicted parent definitely contributed. When I was in Grade 4, I went to rehab to visit my mom for Mother's Day," Roberta said, clearly torn between speaking openly about her troubles and not wanting to speak ill of her mother.

She believes now she was unable to express her "fears and feelings" as a young girl. As a form of self-protection, Roberta created a blissful front of a happy childhood and turned to drugs to keep up the facade.

The fact her mother is still using drugs is painful for Roberta, who cut off all communication with her mother two years ago when she started getting clean.

By age 13, she was hooked on ecstasy and had tried her mother's drug, cocaine. "I really wanted to know what had taken my mom, I really wanted to know what the fuss was about."

For her 14th birthday, a friend gave Roberta some crystal meth. "That was the end of that. Crystal meth ripped me and got me."

Roberta, who had loved school, dropped out in Grade 10. Her social life evolved from school friends to users in the Downtown Eastside. "Then I just let the whole downtown core consume me," she said. "Allowing people to take advantage of me whenever, however
possible. I was just this little 14-year-old girl. I really let them devour me."

Her dad was now terrified. He gave her more money, so his daughter wouldn't do anything desperate to get her drugs.

When she injected for the first time, the naive girl didn't understand the dire consequences: the high was much more intense and she needed more drugs to sustain that feeling.

She also didn't think she would be susceptible to the health risks.

"I was using people's dirty needles, I was using puddle water, I was using water from the gutter. I am really lucky I am healthy," she said. "I just thought, 'I'm young and spunky and hot, and I don't think [getting sick] is ever going to happen to me.'"

As her injection use increased, Roberta began disfiguring herself with the needles. She made hole after hole in her own skin, deriving pleasure from the pain.

Her addiction evolved into shooting heroin and her efforts to quit failed. In an emotional exchange, her grief-stricken father asked if he should prepare himself for Roberta living this way for the rest of her life.

It was a jarring conversation. Just after her 18th birthday, in August 2006, she agreed to go into detox, even though she thought she wasn't "fixable." However, while in detox for 11 days, she met people who inspired her to change. "For the first time in my life I'd seen people who had been to places that were much darker than the places I'd been, and here they were clean. So there was hope."

She kept herself busy with day treatment programs, meetings and night school, but desperately wanted to go to a long-term residential facility to ensure her recovery was firmly cemented. With the help of an outreach worker, a close friend and mentor, and her
Roberta lobbied Vancouver Coastal Health to send her to Portage.

"The intensity in which I found my addiction, I couldn't play around anymore. It wasn't fun. There were no parties left in how I used at all, whatsoever," Roberta said. "What I had to lose was so severe."

After several weeks of perseverance, Roberta left in September 2006 for Montreal and stayed for nearly a year before graduating from the program. "I slowly started unravelling my story, not only to them but to myself too. And it took me 11 months."

Being away from Vancouver wasn't devastating for Roberta, but it wouldn't suit every teen. Some respond better to day programs which allow them to live at home. "It's really challenging for kids, particularly in the early days, who are struggling with their own substance use issues, and may have never travelled before to be sent so far away," Hay said.

A facility like Keremeos didn't exist in B.C. any sooner for a couple of reasons, Hay said. Since taking over responsibility for drug treatment from the province in 2002, the health board had other priority services to address first.

And, secondly, it has taken Central City and From Grief to Action eight years to make this project a reality. The province has given $2 million to Keremeos, but the federal government has provided no funding, Hay said.

It is expected the first 20 beds at Keremeos will open in late January for girls and young women, and another 22 beds will open for
boys and men
by May.

It is anticipated that some of the program's past graduates will work as peer supporters to new clients in B.C.


The facility is located on a 58-acre former campground in the Similkameen Valley owned by Central City, one of Vancouver's oldest charitable organizations, which donates money to causes and capital projects that help disadvantaged people, especially those in the Downtown Eastside.

The money raised by the foundation is being used to renovate 14 existing buildings, improve sewer and water services, and construct a new kitchen and school, said chief executive officer Jennifer Johnstone.

"Lives are going to be saved by this project," Johnstone said.

Dinah Watt, of Vancouver, is ecstatic about how her sister changed in Montreal. "When I started visiting her at Portage, it was just amazing. We could start rebuilding our relationship," said Dinah, 30. "I could just gush about Roberta because she is so strong. Recovery takes so long, but she takes on every challenge. She's become a role model for our family, the tables have turned. I lean on her now instead of her leaning on me."

It wasn't an easy road for Roberta, but it has so far been a successful one. There are still dark days, but she now surrounds herself with supportive people she can lean on while toiling to leave her old life in the past.

Roberta has remained in Montreal, where she is studying French, is three months away from completing her high school diploma, and has been working as a waitress for a year and a half.

"From me going from hustling some good dope from you, to me nowtrying to sell you some ribs or a pulled pork sandwich -- I'm doing well," said Roberta, who hopes to go to college and work with children one day.

Her relationship with her father was forced to change, but their bond is even stronger now. "He's still a major support for me, on so many different levels. Our dynamic is to a point that I never thought possible," she said, smiling warmly. "I'm learning how to live again, and I'm loving the journey."

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist


From Grief to Action - a support program for parents & families impacted by a child's addiction.

Children of the Street Society - offers a series of prevention and education programs for children and youth, caregivers and service providers to reduce the risk of child sexual exploitation.

Missing Children Society of Canada

Addictions Treatment Services

Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service

(604) 660-9382 (Lower Mainland)
Toll-free: (800)663-1441 (Anywhere in BC)

ACCESS CENTRAL - Detox Referral Line

Easy Access to Detox: 1-866-658-1221

Residential Treatment for Youth

Crossing @ Keremeos - BC, opening January 2009.

Hazelden – Youth Residential treatment program in Portland, Oregon.

Portage - Youth Residential treatment program in Montreal. Will be operating the Crossing @ Keremeos in BC.

1 comment:

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