House of the Rising Sons
By Ethan Baron, The Province July 9, 2009
(second from left) and his associates meet at the men's house for
recovered addicts that he runs in east Vancouver.
Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, The Province
They have dragged themselves from lives of addiction,
misery and crime, with little help from anybody but one another.
Without one another, these men would not stand a
chance. Without one another, these men would be back on the streets
of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
They do not rely on government. They do not rely on
the plethora of service-providers dedicated to helping drug addicts.
By supporting one other, they are conquering their
demons, and emerging from a hell that for so many addicts is
impossible to escape.
They have gone from lying, stealing druggies to
gainfully employed and productive members of society.
What they do to keep themselves afloat above the
potential pitfalls of drug relapse is simply live together. In East
Vancouver, in Surrey, in neighbourhoods around the Lower Mainland,
these groups of men are living a self-created, non-institutional
model of addiction treatment.
“The glue that kind of keeps us together is the fact
that we’ve all been through it,” says Rick, a clean-cut 47-year-old
who, with another man, runs three homes in Surrey that house 14
young people, 10 men and six women.
Their methods are not clinical, but share with
institutional addiction-treatment facilities a focus on group
But in these houses, among these men, that therapy
takes the form of hanging out together, talking, telling old stories
from the streets, and providing support to those in danger of
faltering along the recovery road.
“We get to grow together. We get to learn together,”
says Jason, who lost his career in interior design to addiction, and
has regained it with the support of his housemates.
Many addicts, through dishonesty, volatility and
theft, burn their bridges with their families and, while living the
addicted life, have little or no support from those who love them
but cannot trust them.
“You use and abuse all your resources,” says Jason, a
well-dressed man with the build of a pro hockey player.
Five of the seven men in one house in East Vancouver
have children, and three of them have reconnected with their kids
after overcoming addiction.
Most of the men have histories of dysfunctional
relationships, and the Vancouver house is very much a male bastion —
big-screen TVs and conversation providing entertainment that’s
safer, for these men, than the dating scene.
“It takes a while to heal before you have the
emotional strength to be in a relationship,” says Sean, who founded
the house. Relationship stresses can also lead to relapse, he adds.
Sean started up the home five years ago, following 35
years as an addict in the Downtown Eastside. He brought in Rick, and
Donnie, another recovering addict.
“You could paper these walls with my [criminal]
record,” says Donnie, 54, a fit, grey-haired man sitting in the tidy
living room of the three-storey, seven-bedroom East Vancouver house.
“[Sean] cleaned up first, and gave me some hope that
I could clean up.”
Donnie and Rick left the Vancouver home to run the
three Surrey houses, with strict rules that see residents kicked out
for relapsing. Sean takes a more flexible approach.
“Men in my house have slipped,” he says. “If it’s
just a one-night or two-night thing, we can deal with that. If it
goes any further, something has to be done.”
Sean has had to kick people out, but says that of the
30 men who have come through the house in the past four years, 30 to
40 per cent have stayed clean.
That means a good portion have gone off the wagon,
but the success rate is still higher than that of most
short-term-treatment programs, where failure rates often top 80 per
Sean received help setting up the home from Hope
Reformed Church in East Vancouver, which paid the first and last
months’ rent so he could start up, and continues to run the
“[Addiction] is just the reality of this city, and
our society,” says pastor Randy Opmeer. “Our part is just to be
normal, average people who want to provide a welcoming care. We want
to help with just the stability, and be an outside resource for
The not-in-my-backyard syndrome makes these men leery
of revealing the locations of the houses, and the stigma of
addiction made them keep our interviews on a first-names-only basis.
Their next-door neighbours in East Vancouver,
however, are quite happy with their presence.
“They’ve been really good,” says Eleanor Ferrier, 69.
“They really help us out.”
The ex-addicts come over to shovel snow, and Sean
took their trash away during a garbage strike. The reformed addicts
keep quiet, as well, says Eleanor’s husband, Frank, 73. “I’m more
loud than them,” he says. “I play my violin in the back room.”
© Copyright (c) The Province
'You could paper these walls with my criminal record
... [Sean] cleaned up first, and gave me some hope that I could
clean up,' says recovering addict Donnie, pictured.
Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, The Province