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The Phoenix Centre

May 1, 2008
by root
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North Surrey, British Columbia

Photographer: Lindsey Donovan

Open for a little more than a year, the Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Society's Phoenix Centre is functioning much in the way a vibrant town center is often envisioned by progressive urban planners. People seeking a meaningful life free of substances live, work, and interact as a neighborhood of sorts all under this one roof, where they proceed through residential treatment and transitional housing stages as they work toward a return to the community.

The integrated addiction services center includes on-site services and amenities not found at many treatment sites, from a spacious community center for education and recreational pursuits to a rooftop patio for outdoor events to a full-service call center and a flower shop where residents with limited work histories can gain important training and work experience. But the society's executive director, Michael Wilson, says the opportunities available to clients also come with responsibilities.

“We have no problem with treating the residents well—if I'm a coach, I'm going to give you the best gear so you can run. But I expect you to run,” Wilson says.

Residents generally enter a 28-bed “early stabilization” section of the facility, in which they receive individual and group counseling, relapse prevention assistance, and health promotion guidance. As they begin to rebuild their lives in this setting (usually for around three months), they are asked to submit a recovery plan and a work/life plan, successful completion of which allows them to move to transitional housing units at the same building site. Many of the residents have previously been homeless and have co-occurring addiction and mental health problems.

The early stabilization and transitional housing elements are separated from each other, although participants in the programs might interact within the building's vocational or community center spaces. The living spaces in the transitional housing program, which make creative use of natural light, wide hallways, and 9-foot ceilings, are larger than what would be found in a traditional treatment center. But at 375 to 425 square feet, the units still are more suited to stays of under a year than to a longer term.

“We don't want people to live there forever,” Wilson says. “We want people to say, ‘We really loved it here, but you have too many rules.’”

One of those rules is that no visitors are allowed in the apartment-like transitional residences, which house men only. Women participate in the vocational and other services at the center, and plans to establish living space for women are being explored.

The building features use of warm earth tones throughout, and many of the rooms contain paintings created by an artist who has depicted several of the themes of an addict's journey, from courage to a connection with the community.

The Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Society consolidated several operations that were formerly at separate locations into the $12 million facility. The design is intended to make the various spaces highly accessible and to build a sense of community, and the setting was configured to accommodate anticipated growth in demand for services due to an aging demographic in the community, Wilson says.

The services and amenities offered at the facility are meant to reflect the various assets that the program tries to develop in residents. So besides the physical asset of a safe and secure home, the facility offers social assets in its communal spaces and human and financial assets in its vocational and related counseling offerings. “We've lined up all the various players here, so if the residents roll up their sleeves, they will find all they need,” Wilson says.

He adds of the impression the facility leaves on residents, “They've never experienced anything quite like this before. It's so hopeful to them.”