19 May 2017
Bearded Bruce was sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the polished granite of an office building. An empty coffee cup was held in his outstretched hand. When he saw me approach he said, “Hey, Dennis, have you got a few minutes to talk. I’ll pull out a piece of cardboard for you to sit on. So, how are you doing, man. It’s great to see you. Loretta and I were just talking about all our friends. Did you hear that Debbie passed away? Loretta took that pretty hard. Nick and Trudy are back. They both have cancer. Nancy’s is incurable. Nick is doing everything he can to make her life comfortable. Raven passed away and I guess you heard that Shark and Irene are both gone. Loretta stayed home because she was feeling depressed. When she feels depressed she wants a drink. She’s been sober for two years. She’s decided that what she wants to do is study to become a drug and rehab counsellor to Inuit people. She’s had a lot of experience with that.”
I said, “A group I know of: doctors, nurses, psychologists, pharmacists and philanthropists are interested in providing accessible, mental and substance abuse/addiction care for the homeless in the downtown area. We have in mind an existing building with twelve beds. Is this something that you’d be interested in? Is twelve beds enough?”
“A thousand beds wouldn’t be enough, but twelve would be a dozen more than we have right now. Follow up and job placement would be mandatory. These people would need to trust that there was someone to turn to if they had a relapse or things went bad. AA has a helpline that alcoholics can use if the need for a drink is too great. They can also go to meetings whenever they want, some go once a day, some go five times a day.
“You’re asking me about this in what capacity? I’m not interested in rehabilitation for myself. I’m different than a lot of people who we both know who need drugs and alcohol. If they don’t get their fix or a drink for a couple of days they get symptoms of nausea, headaches, sweats, diarrhea, insomnia, and anxiety, among others. In extreme cases, alcohol detox can cause death. Sometimes, drugs are used to lessen the effects of alcohol detox.
“I’m not one of those people. For me it’s a lifestyle choice. I want alcohol, but I don’t need it. Deciding to give up sex doesn’t mean that a man doesn’t get a hard on. The want is always there. I used heroin for a while, but didn’t get addicted because I don’t have an addictive personality. Also, I wasn’t trying to escape from anything. There was nothing that I wanted to forget. I came to Canada with five friends, we called ourselves a gang. Can you guess how many of them are still alive? One, and that’s because he’s serving twelve years in prison for murder, or manslaughter. Have you seen the movie Trainspotting? If you haven’t you should. It was filmed near where I used to live. Do you remember the urinal scene. I was there. My friends were just like the characters in the movie.
“If you’re thinking of a model rehab situation you should look at Holland. Prohibition never works. See what happened in the States, it put all the money in the hands of organized crime. In Holland, what they did first was to eliminate the money. A drug or alcohol addict could get a government licence and he would be provided a limited amount of the alcohol or drugs of his choice. He didn’t have to buy from underground sources, so they dried up.
The overall vision puts addiction clients in charge of their own addiction treatment, by shifting the care towards empowerment, reintegration and self-regulation of the clients. Since the start of 2014, addiction care has been provided in a three-stepped approach: with frontline support from a general practitioner or a general practice mental health worker, followed by the primary mental healthcare and secondary mental healthcare. http://buff.ly/2rDPSiz
In case after case, those who have completed the drug rehabilitation program in Zutphen state that this treatment center saved their lives. One woman told a terrifying tale of years of crime perpetrated to maintain her drug habit. When she woke vomiting blood one day, she realized that she would die within a week if she did not get help. She had heard that the Narconon drug recovery program in Zutphen could help and she went to them. It took several months for her to finally rebuild the life that was destroyed by substance abuse, but she did it. She got completely clean and became a productive employee again, also restoring her relationship with her family. http://buff.ly/2qCvWPz
Bruce continued, “You must be willing to accept people who are drunk and/or on drugs. At present these people are turned away from AA and the Salvation Army. They demand that an addict be clean for twenty-four hours before entering their premises. There is a small window where addicts have hit rock bottom and may decide that they desperately want recovery. If an addict or an alcoholic can resist for twenty-four hours they don’t need a program. In Scotland and Holland, addicts commit to seventy-two hours where they are locked in and sometimes tied down. After that it is their decision to stay or go.
“There would need to be a pharmacist to administer the drugs of choice. Methadone is not a substitute for heroin, it replaces the craving and is administered to a user who has given up the drug, much like a nicotine patch is used by someone quitting smoking. You can’t just slap a patch on a smoker and expect any results. They have to have a deep desire to quit. Being told by a doctor that you either quit or die is often enough motivation.
“It’s essential that there be representatives on the board who were down and out drug users or alcoholics and are now in recovery. Nobody else would know the hell that recovering addicts go through. As an example a man wouldn’t be effective as a counsellor at a rape crisis center, unless the man had himself been raped. A healthy youth wouldn’t be effective counselling to elderly arthritis sufferers about how to deal with their pain. As a parent you wouldn’t be effective counselling pedophiles, you’d look down at them with disgust. Am I getting my point across?
“Another thing you would need is security. If addicts can’t get money for drugs they’ll resort to violence and stealing. This causes bad feelings. If both the thief and the person stolen from are in the same room, or if one is outside and the other is inside, they’ll break down the door to get revenge.
If you’d like I’d be willing to speak to this group, and could refer other people who may be of value in the program.
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Gotta Find a Home; Conversations with Street People