Struggling to help addicts

Foundation House asks for support in tough financial times

David Mitchell (left) and Jack sit in front of Foundation House.

David Mitchell (left) and Jack sit in front of Foundation House.

Foundation House asks for support in tough financial times

“My name’s Jack Smack, but I didn’t get that name from crack, or smack. You’ll just have to come back. It’s a long story, Mack,” Jack says with a laugh.

If you ask Jack where he’s from, he’ll tell you the moon. With a twinkle in his one eye, he says he turned 19 yesterday, then adds he was born Aug. 3, 1958. That makes him a Leo, astrologically, “bold, proud, ambitious and sometimes a little foolhardy,” he adds. He used to sell flowers. Jack loves to impersonate people: detectives, singers, great actors. But he’s quick to say you can never truly be anyone, except yourself. Then, he quotes a favourite movie line.

“Fear will keep you alive. But not paranoia — it’ll destroy you.” He laughs again.

Jack is one of 10 men living at the first-stage Foundation House, a three-stage supportive recovery program out of the Vancouver Island Addiction Recovery Society. Saanich police turned Jack over to the program a few months ago, after he had been in and out of the station for a number of drunken disturbance complaints.

Currently, Foundation House hosts 34 full-time beds, which covers room, board and facilitated support for addicts. The group’s mission isn’t just to get people off the streets or out of their routines; it aims to help men reclaim their lives and be restored to their families, the community and the workplace — ideally, within two years.

“Jack hides in there, underneath his humour,” says David Mitchell, program director for Foundation House. “He’s a good guy, and everyone likes Jack … but he’ll be with us for a while.”

Since 2004, Mitchell — an ex-heroin addict, six years clean — has been helping men like himself find their paths off the street. Thanks in part to Mitchell’s work, Jack will soon be meeting up with his estranged daughter for the first time in 15 years — but that’s just one “success” tale.

Monday covered Mitchell’s story last year in the Sept. 15 story, “New Habits.” Since that article, Foundation House has fallen into some hard times. The society lost two of its houses when they couldn’t renew the leases, and was hemorrhaging money. Thanks to some community support and the six-week waiting list, though, the group was able to rent two more properties to bring the program up to speed and double their effect — both new houses are rehabilitated “crack shacks,” says Mitchell. Now, the group is looking for a way to maintain funding, and the program.

“People, politicians and businesses ask how we can get these men off the streets, and we’re doing it. It takes hard work, a lot of dedication and, unfortunately, money. But we’re seeing real results and I’d like to see that recognized,” says Mitchell.

Foundation House has a success rate of 17 per cent — leagues ahead of the three per cent many other detox and assistance facilities see, partly due to the time and secular step-program commitment. While rates clock in at about $600 per person per month, it’s nothing compared to the actual cost of homelessness on a city, says Mitchell, or even the tax expenses of keeping someone in jail. Right now, funds are coming through donors, EI payments and personal fees. Yet no men are turned away due to money alone. Each house can take two to three months to pass through, but the rotation structure keeps the men — ages 19 to 62 — continually adjusting to change as they graduate from detox house to school/rehabilitation house to working house.

“Addicts don’t like change, but life is all about change. You coax them along and say ‘come on, this is pretty good,’” says Mitchell. “The idea is to give the men something to look forward coming home to — not an old crack house no one cares about.”

While it may be easy to picture run-down dorms with suffering wails seeping out from under the doors, nothing could be further from the truth. The first-stage house is a beautiful character home with 10 bedroom units and a living room, kitchen, office, bathroom and patio that would make any grandmother proud. The hardwood floors, tan walls and oak dining table speak more to a large family set-up than a house that sees guests cycle in and out. The second and third-stage houses are fixed with increasing amenities, electronics and shared chores.

Mitchell makes one thing clear: Foundation House isn’t harm reduction — keeping people as safe as possible in their lifestyles — it’s designed for men who want to help themselves get out, and stay out.

“The men do support each other with the recoveries, but mostly it’s the men having the dedication to want a better life for themselves — because nothing else could pull you out of that pit,” says Mitchell. “We’re doing the heavy lifting here, and it is working. But sometimes we all need a helping hand.” M

Visit foundationhouse.org for info or to help.

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