Bill’s Place and Haven Place sit on a corner lot in Vernon, B.C. The space and manicured lawns are tended by the residents and have become the jewel of the neighbourhood. House Mom Robin said, “I like the yard to match what is happening inside Bill’s Place – healing, growing, and flourishing.” © Courtesy of Turning Points Collaborative Society
In just the first eight months of 2022, almost 1,500 lives were lost in B.C. due to illicit drug toxicity. That is over five times what it was just ten years ago.
In the small community of Vernon, B.C., fatal drug overdoses have increased more than anywhere else in the province.
“The stuff that’s out there, it’s not even a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when. It’s literally like Russian Roulette every time people use nowadays,” said David, a 47-year-old father of four whose addiction led him to Vernon’s streets. “I had bottoms that I never had before. I ended up losing all my material possessions. I was in shelters and even a stretch completely homeless on the streets.”
The increase in overdose deaths over ten years is staggering. But something else has been happening this past decade to quietly combat addiction in Vernon.
In 2013, Bill’s Place Recovery Home opened its doors. Bill’s Place is a 19-bed sober living community offering programs in an environment that feels very much like a home. Along with neighbouring Haven Place, an eight-bed second-stage recovery home, this is a community of individuals at various stages of recovery, supported by program staff with their own lived experience.
“It’s great that many of the facilitators have also been addicts or had struggles with addiction before. We speak the same language,” said Robin, a 60-year-old grandmother and recent graduate of Bill’s Place. “It’s not just about abstaining from your drug of choice. You learn about why you have those tendencies. And also, we get to the root cause of things. It’s not just about managing life without your drug of choice. It’s about healing the things that made you vulnerable in the first place.”
Robin is 17 months sober and now working at Bill’s Place as ‘House Mom/Cool Auntie,’ giving back to the place she says gave her her life back.
David struggled with treatment before but is now 11 months sober and feels the same way. “There’s no way in my own experience that I wanted to be living that way. It’s not fun. It’s not glamorous. It’s just suffering. That’s all it is. At Bill’s, they really do want to see people succeed. They put together a program that works. I feel like it’s giving people their lives back.”
Over 68 clients completed the program at Bill’s Place last year. But with B.C.’s current drug crisis, the need is growing. Bill’s Place receives almost 260 annual referrals and is on pace to reach 300 this year. With only 19 primary care beds, the wait list can sometimes be several months long.
David said, “I think people truly believe it is a choice, but it’s not. It is absolutely a medical illness. And it’s one that, unfortunately, doesn’t just affect the user. It’s a family illness. Right? So it trickles down. These people, they’re brothers and sisters. They’re someone’s mom or dad.”
For David, his recovery this time is as much about his own well-being as it is for his family’s. “The biggest difference other than peace and happiness I have for myself is knowing my family get to lay their head down with the peace of mind knowing that I’m well.”
“I think there should be about ten Bill’s Places,” said Robin. “The longer people have to wait, the more firmly entrenched they become in their addiction, you know?”
When asked what’s at stake, Robin bluntly answered, “what’s at stake is your life.”
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Turning Points Collaborative Society provides outreach, shelter services and various housing options for vulnerable people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness in the Okanagan.