Tessera Brooks (left)

The North Island Supportive Recovery Society is turning 25 this month.

“We had no money, we started on a hope and a prayer,” said Board Member Bruce Murdoch. “It’s been a success because the community has supported it.”

The society operates the Second Chance Recovery House for men in Campbell River. It all began in February 1990 when representatives from groups such as the Campbell River and North Island Transition Society, AA, NA, Salvation Army, Campbell River Assessment and Referral Services and the Campbell River Hospital’s substance abuse program met for a brainstorming session. This was in response to the alarming number of people being turned away from the hospital and the alcohol and drug office because of lack of beds/services, and showing up on the steps of local churches, the Alano Club and the police station.

“We’ve had 137 referrals in one year,” said Wendy Brown (formally Conover) in 1990. “With the advent of the (hospital) program, we are bringing more business to an already taxed facility.”

Brown was the coordinator of the hospital substance abuse program back then, and became one of the society’s original board directors.

“Wendy was the real instigator of getting the house started,” said Murdoch.

Brown noted a similar group to that of the “brainstorming” one met as early as 1975-1980 to discuss opening a facility, but there were too many obstacles at that time.

The 1990 group moved quickly and formed a registered society in May and by December they opened a five-bed facility on Tamarac Street. The rented house was originally staffed with Manager Karen Gray and volunteers. The society now has an Executive Director (Tessera Brooks) and 12 staff members.

Support from the community was very positive at the time, with help coming from Rotary, the Lions, Altrusa and the Kinsmen. Early board members even personally signed for a line of credit to keep the house operational. Funding was eventually secured through the provincial government via Social Services and Alcohol and Drug Services (now known as the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation and Mental Health and Substance Use).

“It was very exciting in the early days, there were challenges, like funding,” said Brown. “But it was a very positive time. It made a world of difference to my job and of course the patients I was dealing with.”

The majority of the patients Brown saw at the hospital were alcoholics in need of detox, but before Second Chance, they had to go to Victoria for help. Then, like now, there was always a shortage of hospital beds, so it was rare when she could admit them.

“Alcohol withdrawal can be quite life threatening, it’s important to do it in a safe place because of possible seizures,” she said. “When you came to the house to see clients you realized they were in the right place, getting the right service.”

The society’s mandate was at first to aid anyone who needed help ending their addictions, but it quickly became apparent having men and women together in such a small facility was not going to work. The men who were seeking help were all ages and mostly seeking help to stop drinking, although there were some heroin and cocaine addicts as well.

Today the demographics have changed to a younger clientele (usually under 40) who have addictions to more than one substance. Many also have a concurrent mental illness or brain injury.

Second Chance had to move when the Tamarac Street house was demolished as part of the new highway construction in Campbellton in the late 90s.

The current Birch Street location opened with seven beds and grew to 10 as funding became more secure. BC Housing took over the mortgage payments in the mid-00s. In March 2006 VIHA introduced the Crisis Stabilization Beds program, so Second Chance went from having one detox bed to four. The Crisis Nurses at the hospital, as well as Mental Health and Substance Use clinicians, refer clients to these beds. Although the majority of the beds are used for detox, some clients are admitted for harm reduction. They may have a mental illness and need to re-establish their medication regimen or they may have had thoughts of suicide and need a safe place to stay for a few nights.

The remaining six beds are used for supportive recovery and the men can stay up to 45 days. During that time they learn communication and anger management skills, and work on the first three steps of the 12-Step Recovery model. (They are required to attend five out of house NA or AA meetings each week). They also learn life skills by doing daily household chores and helping with the weekly grocery shopping.

Before they leave clients prepare an after care plan which includes where they will live, who their sponsor is, what NA or AA group(s) they will attend, what other supports they will have (friends/family/counsellors) and if they will be going to work/school.

Second Chance now helps more than 100 clients each year in house. The secret to Second Chance’s longevity is its welcoming, home-like atmosphere.

“Tessera is a mom-like figure,” said Murdoch. “The mix of men and women on staff also helps create a homey atmosphere. And so does the clients sharing the responsibility of the care of the house.”

Brooks has been at Second Chance since 1999, starting as a support staff member.

“Knowing this is a safe place they can come to any time after they finish our program also adds to their comfort level,” she said.

Past clients are always welcome to come back as it gives them an added support to their continued recovery and it shows the current clients that success is attainable.

The number of past clients attending the daily support group continues to rise every year.

This year there were 617 contacts with past clients compared to 506 during the previous year.

“Our clients also work on their other mental and physical health issues, some of which have led to their addictions as a result,” said Brooks. “So the men are treating themselves in a holistic manner, not just dealing with their addictions.”

She added the community still continues to be a huge supporter of Second Chance, donating time, clothes, food, linens, toiletries, money, furniture and Christmas gifts every year.

“We really wouldn’t be able to do the work we do, and offer the kind of care we do without the help of the people of Campbell River,” she said. “We are very grateful, and able to look towards the next 25 years because of them.”

For more information about Second Chance phone 250-830-1103.