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The Servants of hope society - House of the rising sons

House of the Rising Sons

 By Ethan Baron, The Province July 9, 2009

  

Sean (second from left) and his associates meet at the men's house for recovered addicts that he runs in east Vancouver.

 Sean (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 therapy.

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 cent.

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 finances.

“[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 Sean.”

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.”

E-mail: ebaron@theprovince.com

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.

'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


 

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