Chris wavers on his feet as he steps through the doorway of the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in Watson Lake. It’s just after 11 a.m. and Chris is drunk. But that isn’t unusual, especially at the soup kitchen.
Quietly he takes a seat at the table while a volunteer reads him the “riot act.” Intoxicated patrons are allowed to stay, so long as they behave themselves.
Chris grew up in Watson Lake, but has no idea who his parents are.
“I grew up alone. I wish I had a mom, for real, you know? And a dad,” he says as he ladles another shaky spoonful of soup into his mouth.
“I don’t judge anyone. They’re all beautiful in this world. You can judge me if you want, I don’t care,” Chris says.
Chris and his friend Teddy are regulars at the soup kitchen. After their meal they will leave, but where they go is unclear.
Fred Statham, who runs the soup kitchen, worries about guys like Chris and Teddy. Chris is a hardcore alcoholic, but the chances of him getting the treatment he needs are slim.
“It’s an epidemic,” Statham says.
The missing link, says Statham, is support for people who are trying to get clean. Too often addicts go away for detox and treatment, either in Whitehorse or Outside, but they return to the same environment that gave rise to their addiction in the first place.
Statham isn’t alone in his call for after-care. While politicians sometimes don’t agree on much, the one thing everyone in Watson Lake agrees on is that more services are needed to help address the addictions problems.
Chief Liard McMillan also acknowledges that things are bad.
“Things are not getting any better than five years ago. We still have young people that are drinking. We still have issues of domestic violence, girls getting raped. We have people addicted to prescription drugs,” he says.
Last year 12 people from the community went away to treatment centres, McMillan says, but the town has since lost its full-time drug and alcohol counsellor.
“I don’t mind admitting that the leadership hasn’t done anything further with it to date. It’s a complex issue that will take more time to resolve,” he says.
Ann Maje Raider is the executive director of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society. From her perspective, two things are needed: a detox centre and more after-treatment support.
“We, the community, are struggling with addictions. There is no detox facility. Individuals that want to go for treatment often have to wait for six months, and are told they have to be sober for that six-month period. Well, they can’t make it to six months,” she says.
LAWS and the Kaska leadership had developed a 10-year strategy to help address addictions in the community, but they can’t move forward with it until they get money to act on the plans, says Maje Raider.
LAWS has been trying to find someone to help pay the costs of hiring an implementation worker, but until that happens the strategy is essentially at a standstill, she says.
Maje Raider says that the Liard First Nation might have better luck getting support from mining companies, but she hasn’t worked directly with them on it.
On New Years Day, the RCMP raided the Lakeview Apartment building and seized 86 grams of crack and powder cocaine and 25 grams of marijuana. Three people were arrested in the much-celebrated bust, but even detachment commander Cam Lockwood says it hasn’t changed a whole lot in the community.
“I think we’re still about status quo. The seizure did make a difference in the community, but we’re still busy with our normal drug- and alcohol-related files,” Lockwood says.
Watson Lake is the busiest Yukon detachment outside of Whitehorse, and the members are no strangers to the Lakeside building. On a Thursday night before the KiKi Karnival two weeks ago, residents say the cops were at the building seven times in one overnight shift.
Lakeside is notorious in Watson Lake for drugs and alcohol, and the attendant violence that comes with them. Many of the doors have been kicked in so many times that no one bothers to fix them anymore.
Since the big bust, people in the building say not much has changed. The News spoke with a number of residents in Watson Lake’s only apartment building, all on the condition of anonymity because they fear reprisals from neighbours.
Residents say there are parties in the building just about every night, and things often get out of control.
“You can hear women screaming for help all the time,” says one resident. In only a few months in the building, they say they’ve seen many fights and domestic disputes that often end with the police or, in one case, an ambulance.
Alphie Rae is one of the volunteers at the soup kitchen. He lives in the Campbell Block, another of Watson Lake’s rougher buildings. Residents there say that drugs and partying haven’t been as much of a problem lately, and when things do get bad it’s often people from Lakeside who are causing problems.
The people in the Campbell Block say they are a closer-knit community than Lakeside. They look out for each other. Rae and his neighbours take turns cooking dinner for each other, and Rae – one of the few who hasn’t been banned from the Tag’s grocery store, does pick-up runs of booze or groceries for his friends.
“If you need a bottle of soda, it’ll cost you two shots,” he says.
Watson Lake’s mayor, Richard Durocher, has seen a lot of the problems himself.
“The after-care is definitely key,” he says.
“Friday night comes around and people go visit somebody’s house and there’s a few rounds of beer and so on. Then it becomes, ‘Well he’s my friend but I’m trying to stay away from this,’ and it’s a vicious cycle.”
Along with after-care, Durocher wants to see more training and support for addicts’ families and friends. There needs to be a way to break the cycle and change the environment that addicts return to from treatment.
“I know a couple people that struggle with alcohol, and I don’t know how to approach that. How can I help? I can’t, because I don’t have the tools in my arsenal to help them along,” he says.
Health Minister Doug Graham says that better treatment and after-care is a priority of the Yukon government, and he hopes the new programs at the Sarah Steele treatment centre will help.
“I think after-care around the whole territory is a bit of a gap in our services. We recognize that and that’s what we’re doing with the new Sarah Steele building, and working in cooperation with the Salvation Army to expand the transitional housing part of the after-care program with them,” Graham says.
Ideally, Graham would like to see after-care and treatment centres in all of the territory’s communities, but there just isn’t enough money, he says.
Contact Jesse Winter at