Some government employees are so tired of not having safe housing available for people when they finish addictions treatment programs that they decided to set up and pay for the service themselves.
The Yukon government announced last week that it is working with the Salvation Army on plans to provide transitional housing for people when they leave treatment.
But for Dana Kistemaker and Bryan Caverhill, that isn’t good enough.
Together, they started the Whitehorse Yukon Safer Housing Society, which aims to provide self-supported housing for people in recovery.
“The government has seen that there’s a need for the past 20 years, and they’ve done nothing about it,” said Kistemaker.
“To just wait for the government to do something – you can be waiting forever.”
Kistemaker currently works in the prevention branch of alcohol and drug services. She does a lot of work in the communities, and sees first-hand how difficult it can be for people to leave treatment and go right back into the situation they came from, she said.
“People would come out of treatment and go back to the communities and they would relapse. And I’ve been seeing this for the last five or 10 years.”
Caverhill is a counselor who works directly with clients in the treatment program.
“Bryan basically put his foot down and said, ‘We need something for these people,’” said Kistemaker.
“He would see people going into treatment, he would spend a month with them, get them clean, and then they’d have nowhere to go, other than the Salvation Army or back to the communities. And the Salvation Army is obviously not a great environment for people who are trying to stay clean, and neither are the communities.”
So far, Kistemaker and Caverhill having been paying to start up their housing society with their own money. They have also received donations from other employees of alcohol and drug services, said Kistemaker.
Their housing society is based on the Oxford House model, which started in the United States in 1975 and spread into Alberta in 1995. There are now over 50 Oxford homes in Canada, said Kistemaker.
The idea is that individuals in recovery support each other in a democratic living situation.
All applicants must have been through a treatment program, and must be actively involved in a recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous, said Kistemaker.
Anyone who relapses must go to detox until the alcohol or drugs are out of their system, and if they relapse twice they have to do another treatment program before they can return to the house, said Kistemaker.
The hope is for the houses to become self-sufficient. Tenants pay their rent to the society, and participate in weekly house meetings. Everyone must work, volunteer or attend school during the day.
The houses are not staffed, but if funds become available to hire a staff person for the society, their role would be to co-ordinate evening and weekend programming for the house, said Kistemaker.
The Yukon society already has a house available, which could host up to four residents, and it has already been through a trial run.
In December two women leaving the treatment program at Sarah Steele moved into the house.
However, over the Christmas break Kistemaker was out of town and many service organizations were closed. Caverhill felt overwhelmed by the task of keeping the house running on his own, said Kistemaker.
Alternative housing was found for both women within a couple of months.
“It was an interesting trial run because it made us realize that we have more work to do,” said Kistemaker.
Right now the society is looking to recruit board members and volunteers to ease the workload and begin to look at potential funding options.
Having more people on board will also help Caverhill distance himself from the project, since as an alcohol and drug counselor he feels he is a little bit too close to it, said Kistemaker.
Kistemaker hopes that people will move back into the house when the next men’s treatment program concludes in a couple of months, she said.
They also plan to reach out to the AA community to see if there might be individuals who have been in recovery for some time who might want to move into the house and act as mentors for those who are coming straight from treatment.
Individuals can stay in the house for as long as they want, so long as they do not relapse.
The idea is that once the first house is up and running, the society will be able to expand, said Kistemaker.
“Once we show that there’s need and that it’s going to work, then we’re hoping to get a second house and start building.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with the organization should contact Kistemaker at email@example.com.
“In the end it’s going to be a really wonderful program, so it’s worth the frustration,” she said.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at