After being turned down by Bonnyville at the beginning of September, executive director of Residents in Recovery Tyler Lorenz made his pitch for a sober-living house to the Town of Elk Point.
“If we could find a way to really help those individuals that are caught up in this cycle, we could really drop our crime rates in our communities,” said Lorenz.
He spoke about the cycle of addiction and how a lack of treatment options results in high rates of relapsing when addicts are released from jail.
A Lloydminster based recovery home, one of the most important things for any house in their program, he said, was that it be family-friendly because as many as 60 per cent of their clients have children.
The program actively supports and promotes family reunification.
“Very rarely do we have a house that doesn’t have children in it on weekends,” said Lorenz.
Cost said to be $15,000
The society is looking for a four plus bedroom house which could be rented at a below market rate for a three year term.
The Residents in Recovery Society covers the lease and all utilities and expenses, with rents for the tenants paid to the society by Alberta Works and $289 per bed per month contributed by the community.
“So for a house you’re looking at just over $1,000 to have a sober living program in your community. So for $15,000 a year you have a sober living program in your community,” said Lorenz.
He contrasted the cost of the program with the cost of a person not being able to receive treatment.
According to a case study of a client in Lloydminster in 2018, the man cost the community $20,297 in the three months prior to beginning the sober living program through police and hospital interactions and time spent in a shelter. The cost of his first three months in sober living, including rent, living allowance, and daily programming was $2,982.
“He did very well, he went back to work, and is now in jail. He relapsed. He was supposed to go back to treatment in April but due to COVID that was cancelled and his life has been in a tailspin since then,” said Lorenz.
Given the opportunity to ask questions, Coun. Deb McQuinn asked if Lorenz had researched Elk Point and if he thought the program would be suitable. Lorenz said he didn’t think there was a community where it wouldn’t be beneficial.
“Especially given what we’ve learned with COVID, a lot of things can be done virtually. From counselling to the opioid dependence program, it can be done virtually. And it really demonstrated that there are no barriers to having a program like this in any community,” said Lorenz.
Community buy-in needed
He noted it’s important for any community hosting a sober living program to be fully supportive “because it is such a small community, if the community doesn’t embrace it, it could be a recipe for disaster. The community needs to buy in to this wholeheartedly so there isn’t any resistance.”
Deputy Mayor Terri Hampson thanked Lorenz for his honesty and said the Town of Elk Point would need to do some more homework on their end.
“There’s definitely more players that need to come to the table for sure,” said Hampson. “I think it’s a great idea. It needs to be talked about, and it needs to be out there.”
In discussion after the presentation Hampson suggested a needs assessment for the community because “if we go down this path we want it to be as successful as possible, not only for the town but for the clients involved.”
“The reality is they are in our backyard and so we should do what we can to partner and support and make it as good a transition as possible,” said Hampson.
Coun. Deb McQuinn proposed an opinion poll with the option for people to give an explanation of their choices or their reasoning. Smereka suggested an open house to provide town residents with the opportunity to ask questions of the landlords and neighbours of recovery houses in Lloydminster, who Lorenz said had become some of his biggest advocates.
Mayor Lorne Young suggested the town reach out to realtors to see if a suitable house was available.
“I just really appreciate his honesty, and I think our first step is finding out if the community backs this wholeheartedly,” said Coun. Tim Smereka.
Coun. Dwayne Yaremkevich expressed support for all three ideas as steps moving forward.
A motion by Hampson to receive the presentation as information was carried. The intention discussed was to proceed with the legwork necessary to gauge community support for a sober living program.