This new shelter hopes to give addicts with no home and no support a fighting chance

To get an idea of just how different this new shelter program is, you need to ask Salvation Army Centre of Hope executive director John DeActis about the chocolates. 

“I have some chocolate downstairs in the shape of a Salvation Army Shield and I’m going to come up on Friday and put them on all the beds,” he said, laughing.

It’s not exactly the Fairmont Hotel, but DeActis is welcoming 22 important guests to the Salvation Army Centre for Hope on Monday.

They’ll be the first people in Canada to live at a Recovery Community Centre. It is a new type of shelter that’s designed to give people who want to get clean, but have no support and nowhere to live a fighting chance at staying sober. 

Clients can stay for up to 4 years

Each occupant will get a single bed with a dresser, window and their own shower. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“It really is about recovery,” DeActis said. “They can live here for up to four years.”

During those four years, participants will have the stability they need to be actively working on their recovery, engaging in such things as group therapy sessions, alcoholics anonymous, and relapse prevention, DeActis said. 

The facility will have 24-hour staffing, on-site student social workers from King’s College and a volunteer nurse to help clients through their recovery. 

It will also include a games room, activity room, computer lab, communal kitchen and dining room, places where clients can hopefully foster a sense of community. It`s something DeActis said is crucial to a successful recovery. 

‘Every city is dealing with the tent issue’

John DeActis is the executive director of the Salvation Army Centre of Hope in downtown London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“In recovery it’s about community, so it’s about bringing folks together in the community and to support one another and help one another,” he said. “We always say the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connecting with people. The more you connect with people, the better your recovery is going to be.”

There are no studies to say this approach works because as far as he knows, it’s never been done before. 

“Turning shelter beds is something very new. We’re not aware of this happen ing anywhere in Canada,” DeActis said, noting that new approaches are urgently needed to help stem the tide of drug addiction and homelessness that’s causing so much suffering across Canada. 

 “I’m hoping this is part of the solution,” he said. “We know how hard it is with affordable housing today. Every city is dealing with the tent issue.” 

DeActis hopes that the people who stay in the recovery centre will not only get clean, but stay clean, find work and start paying their own way. 

If successful, program could expand

Garbage is piled up in a makeshift camp built by people sleeping in the rough in downtown London, Ont. not far from the CN tracks. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“Our hope down the road is we convert all 90 of our private rooms into our recovery community centre,” he said, noting that the Salvation Army Centre of Hope will still offer beds to anyone who needs them. 

The program will be closely studied in its first 18 months, so that it can be fine tuned as it goes in order to help even more people. 

London has been mired in a housing and drug crisis for months. DeActis believes that, to stop it, the city needs the same thing a recovering addict needs: stability and a sense of community. 

“It’s about connectiveness,” he said. “What we need to know as a city, as a community, is that these folks are our community. We need to take care of them. We need to help.”

“It’s pretty easy for us to think as we drive by ‘oh my gosh, what is going on there?’ But if we drive by and say ‘this is my community these people are part of who I am in the city,’ I think we drive by with different eyes and a different heart.” 

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