John has spent more than $20,000 on alcohol and cocaine in the past year.
He’s on social assistance and spends his days hanging out with buddies in downtown Whitehorse.
John, (not his real name), eats once a day if he makes it to the Salvation Army on time.
He feels like he has no place to go for help.
John is one of the addicts Collin Moonen met while canvassing Second Avenue.
And Moonen, a former addict and alcoholic who spent 15 years on Vancouver’s East Side, knows what it’s like to be in John’s shoes.
“There was no place to go,” he said. “You would go through the detox system and then go back on the street.”
Moonen’s been clean for the past 10 years. Now he wants to give addicts support to kick the habit, support he never had.
He’s proposing a long-term treatment program to help former addicts get back on their feet.
The program, which would run from a local home, would accept adults, 19 and older, from shorter-term treatment centres.
“We need a place like this in the Yukon,” said Moonen.
“There’s a high demand for it because we have such a large drug and alcohol problem here, and a lot of it isn’t seen by most of the public.”
Although other programs, like the one run by the Yukon government, are beneficial and worthwhile, 28 days isn’t long enough, said Moonen.
It’s barely long enough for a cocaine or crystal meth addict to get over withdrawal symptoms, never mind go through the programming process, he said.
They need a minimum of 18 months before they can re-enter society in a job or at school.
The proposed program would accommodate 12 to 15 people at a time, said Moonen.
Immediately, a new resident would start taking on small responsibilities, such as making their own bed and taking a morning shower.
“They’d get into a routine,” said Moonen.
“Most places would tell you to do that; a place like this would help you practise those responsibilities,” he said.
One or two counsellors would help residents with emotional problems.
There would be Alcoholics Anonymous and a Narcotics Anonymous meeting each week.
Up to six hours of daily programming would focus on learning life skills, anger management and boosting self-esteem.
There would also be a focus on health promotion and educating the residents on the effect drugs and alcohol have on the body and mind.
“When people are cleaning up for the first time, they sometimes realize they have a health issue that they weren’t aware of in the beginning, like HIV or hepatitis C,” said Moonen.
A cook would help teach residents to make their own meals.
“Our government has to come forward and look at how to take away the demand for the drug and alcohol problem we have in the Yukon,” he said.
Rather than focusing on busting dealers, Moonen wants to take away their customers.
“People can quit real easy when it comes to drugs and alcohol, the problem is remaining quit,” he said.
Moonen is scouting locations for the home and trying to secure funding through local First Nations and the Yukon government.
He needs at least $75,000 to start the place, and projects room and board would cost residents between $350 and $475 per person, per month.
He’s passed the plan on to the Health minister’s office, the opposition parties and city officials.
He’s also pitched it to Yukon’s Alcohol and Drug Services.
“We’ve heard ideas like this before, but he seems to have been able to get it off the ground,” said Alcohol and Drug Services manager Larry Whitfield.
Whitfield’s taking a “wait-and-see approach.”
Currently Alcohol and Drug Services offers addicts a 28-day inpatient initiative.
The government-run facility holds nine gender-specific programs per year.
When people complete the 28 days, they can enter outpatient counselling as individuals and in a group setting.
“The counsellor sets up a treatment plan and the individual, hopefully, follows the plan and comes back to the counsellor on a regular basis to get additional support,” he said.
Moonen’s proposed program could be suitable for some of Alcohol and Drug Services’ clients, said Whitfield.
“It has some potential,” he said. “But it all depends on the program components, the qualifications of people working there and the checks and balances, like security and training.”
Whitfield needs more information.
“There’s still a lot of things we don’t know, but the concept is not a bad one,” he said.