Oxford House, one of Canada’s only licensed pre-treatment recovery housing programs not attached to a treatment center, will be expanding its operations by 20 beds, helping an additional 240 people per year leave addiction.
The province is providing $1.8 million over three years to assist the organization’s creation of more pre-treatment spaces, and working to close a systematic gap in Alberta’s addiction recovery cycle.
“This was one of the biggest gaps when I myself first recovered,” said Earl Thiessen, Executive Director for Oxford House, and alumni of the organization’s addiction treatment programs.
“This funding will open the door for 20 pre-treatment beds for men and women in our province, which translates annually to roughly 240 spaces for people on waitlist for residential treatment—240 people that would otherwise be left without support after making the tough decision to put themselves through a detox and treatment.”
Pre-treatment spaces fill the gap between when a person leaves a detox program, and before they’re admitted into an addiction treatment program provided by other social service agencies in the province. It also ensures that people who are at risk of relapsing after leaving detox have supports to prevent them from falling back into familiar drug use patterns.
Oxford House has 27 Alberta locations, with 18 of them in Calgary.
Saving lives by keeping people away from drugs
Thiessen called it a program that saves lives, including his own.
“This is filling a massive gap,” he said.
Jeremy Nixon, Minister for Community, Seniors, and Housing, relayed a story from his time while working for the Mustard Seed about the potential for relapse.
Nixon worked with a man named James, who would go through detox, but would inevitably fall back into drug use because there was nowhere to stay in between.
“You would always wonder whether or not you’re gonna see him again, and one time he showed up at the program after an absence and he said, ‘Jeremy, I need help. I need to deal with my addiction issues,'” Nixon recalled.
“We got him a bus ticket and the next morning he made his way down to the detox center. He lined up early in the morning in the freezing cold, but he didn’t have a bed. There wasn’t a room for him. And he walked back to The Seed because I didn’t give him two bus tickets, and he cried the whole way.
“But when he got into detox, there was no treatment space for him, and so we ended up back at The Seed, right there a floor above everybody who he used to engage in his addiction with.”
Nixon said that he was eventually able to bend the rules at the Mustard Seed to save James’ life by allowing him a space, even when he wasn’t sober, to get away from drugs.
“He came from treatment towards our transitional housing program, got working, and reconnected with family. And so I tell you this story just again to emphasize how critical it is that we are working to fill in the gaps between making that decision for recovery and detox,” Nixon said.
Program has parallels with Cabinet task force on addiction and safety
Within Oxford House, individuals staying in pre-treatment will still receive some basic addiction treatment before entering one of the programs offered by other social service agencies across the province.
“It’s not full-blown treatment; it’s like entry-level. They’re doing some relapse prevention, self-esteem building, just to get them ready for the next big step in their life,” said Thiessen.
Nicholas Milliken, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, said that the funding announcement was something that overlaps the work that the Calgary Public Safety and Community Response Task Force is doing on addiction treatment for homeless Calgarians.
“It’s about making sure that the services that we have that can be implemented in a quick way to make real impactful change are there, and I would say that this overlaps very much so with that task force,” he said.
Minister Milliken and Minister Nixon are both serving on that Cabinet task force.
The Government of Alberta announced funding in 2022 for an additional 8,000 publicly-funded treatment spaces across the province, along with eliminating fees that presented a barrier to accessing treatment spaces.