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Two organizations work on therapeutic recovery programs for Port Alberni

The road to addiction recovery is long
Mark Braunagel sits on the tailgate of a pickup truck full of clothing donations his sister Lynn Nelson raised in honour of Braunagel’s 50th birthday. Braunagel and Nelson were able to distribute two truckloads of clothing to Port Alberni’s vulnerable citizens. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Two different organizations are hoping to open therapeutic recovery centres in the Alberni Valley. It is the next piece in the opioid dialogue, says John Douglas of the Port Alberni Shelter Society. It will also help with the homelessness issue, says Mark Braunagel.

Douglas and Mark Braunagel are both promoting plans for long-term recovery centres, saying short-term recovery options—which are few and far between—don’t breed success. Both are working on separate plans: Braunagel under the auspices of the Alberni Valley Recovery Center, and Douglas with PASS.

There is already one residential recovery centre in the Alberni Valley: Kackaamin Family Development Centre, which opened in 2009 in the former Beaver Creek School site. Kackaamin (pronounced “cots-common”) was an eight-million-dollar development when it was first announced, and includes 14 housing units and two youth dormitories. When it was built the facility was intended to provide housing for Indigenous families at risk of homelessness while at the same time offering support services to family members looking to overcome drug and alcohol addictions.

Both Braunagel and Douglas agree recovery needs to be a long-term commitment.

Braunagel is critical of short recovery programs such as one offered in the Comox Valley that is only 28 days. “That’s all they get. Then they get a bus ticket back to Port Alberni and they have no place to go. They don’t stand a chance of being sober here. These guys don’t stand a chance that they’re going to get off (drugs).”

Braunagel was born and raised in Port Alberni. He lost his parents at a young age, was a faller in the forestry industry, and “I found alcohol at a young age. It was my crutch.”

He spends a lot of time supporting Port Alberni’s vulnerable community—holding clothing drives to distribute warm clothing to people who are living on the street, and checking in on them to see what they might need.

He said most people who are on the street and in addiction have suffered trauma and many have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Ninety days isn’t going to get them sober. It isn’t going to fix these people’s PTSD; they need long-term treatment.

“They need a two-year treatment program where they have a safe place to stay at after a 90-day program.”

Braunagel has solicited letters of support from the community for a treatment centre that models the Calgary Dream Centre. Their addiction recovery program is seven weeks, and offers housing programs too. Braunagel would like to see a 30-bed centre open in Port Alberni, paid for through provincial and federal funding that offers a place to live, counselling and education.

“It’s a formula I know works because I went there myself,” he said. “I was homeless on the streets of Calgary about nine years ago and someone told me about the Calgary Dream Centre. I went knocking on the door and they let me in.”

Braunagel went to treatment five different times to try and kick his addiction, and knows first hand that short-term treatment programs aren’t suitable for everyone. “Until I went to a long-term treatment program where I had time and support of the treatment centre, I didn’t stand a chance.”

“We know this is a big plan with substantial costs attached to it, but it’s something that is desperately needed in the Alberni Valley.”

John Douglas and the Port Alberni Shelter Society also see the value of a long-term therapeutic recovery centre. Douglas has travelled to Europe and researched different therapeutic recovery models across North America, hoping to bring the concept to the Alberni Valley.

“We’ve done a lot of very serious research and visiting sites in Utah, Salt Lake City and three others in the United States that are long-term models,” he said. The shelter society received $5,000 in matching funds from the Victoria Foundation to assist with their financial model. They are looking at opening a facility for women in the beginning, then evolving to include all genders and families as well.

Douglas spent time studying San Patrignano, a therapeutic community operating since 1978 near Rimini, Italy. He said the supports in place are designed to help people in addiction be successful by offering mentorship, safety and employment at one of many social enterprises on the site.

The idea for PASS is to use land around the leased Port Alberni Shelter Farm for the therapeutic community. The farm is already establishing itself as a social enterprise that would dovetail into a therapeutic community.

COVID-19 has slowed progress on the PASS program, but Douglas said they hope to set up meetings with government ministers in the new year.

The shelter society is hoping philanthropic donors will see the value in their plans and assist with funding. “We’re hoping to get $2.5 million so we can acquire the (Shelter Farm) property and have some capital to move ahead with it.

“Because it’s a long-term recovery program it’s a long-term plan for sustainability and success,” Douglas said.

Clark Power, centre, and Bill Kirschner, owner of LB Woodchoppers, donate $1,800 of new warm clothing to Mark Braunagel to be distributed to Port Alberni’s vulnerable population. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Alberni Valley News editor.
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