Stories : Overcoming Alcohol Addiction
Homeless is out in the open – on full display. It is a deeply troubling image that seers into our minds-eye. What is less seen – but perhaps more important to the success of housing programs are the many community members who have been housed. They are largely invisible – and forgotten in the din of dealing with homelessness. And so, the image of housing in the community is driven by the challenges, not the successes. But it is the successes that are so instructive to making positive change.
-Nanaimo Region John Howard Society
Here is one case study that shows the positive impacts of the efforts in Nanaimo:
MM entered the Housing First program in 2016. For over 40 years, MM had spent every day homeless, drinking with a group of friends, downtown.
So it was no surprise that when MM was housed, he continued spending most of his time outside drinking with his friends. He would also have friends over to his new place, where they would drink and smoke inside his apartment, putting his tenancy at risk.
We worked with MM to moderate his tenancy behaviours (which he had to learn), and worked with his landlord to keep him housed. That process took two years. In 2018, MM decided to stop drinking after yet another visit to the emergency room.
But it was not only his addiction that he was breaking away from – he was also aware that it meant breaking away from his friends too. Aside from one uncle, all of his family members in the area are heavy drinkers, and continuing to hang out with them would lead him back to addiction, as it had done before.
MM started working on the Urban Clean Team program crew, showing up for every shift, three times a week. MM celebrated a year of sobriety. But he was really struggling with loneliness and worried that he was going to relapse. Our Housing Outreach worker took MM to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where he was introduced to an elder in the community and that led to him participating in another sober living support program.
While MM did not find value in the sober living program, he had found some people to relate to at AA. He was grateful for the guidance of an elder, and his uncle has become a much bigger figure in his life.
He has not returned to the emergency room and is closing in on two years of sobriety, in large part because he has a community for support.
MM is an example of the important intertwined roles of a) case worker support (for therapeutic support) and b) friends who can help a person to rebuild their life in a healthier direction.
The changed conditions that contributed to MM’s success include housing, supported employment, and also healthy friends to support MM’s decision to change his life.
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