Newcomers to the Launching Pad Recovery House usually spend their first night wrapped in a blanket, on one of two couches in the foyer of the 70-year-old former nursing home on 160 Street in South Surrey.
Once they’ve sobered up, their next stop is the office just off the foyer, where a no-nonsense Roy Stock, the house manager, gives them a choice.
No drugs. No alcohol. They must do their chores, show up on time for meetings and be prepared to go 30 days with no contact with family and friends.
Or they can leave. And die.
“This disease does not take prisoners,” Stock says.
Stock is a former Launching Pad resident who says he used to think he was just fine when he was working at a well-paying job and drinking Crown Royal.
“I thought I was a high-class guy.”
But he eventually ended up drinking anything that had alcohol, including liquid disinfectants, gas-line antifreeze – even melting down cooking fuel to get at the alcohol.
Stock is one of the Launching Pad success stories.
There are many others on the wall of the dining room, where several photo montages hang.
Every past resident’s picture can be found there, too. A few have black circles drawn around their image.
“They didn’t make it,” says Launch Pad addictions rehabilitation society president Ken Falconer.
The Launching Pad Recovery House began operating in June of 1994 at a 12-bed facility in Aldergrove. It relocated to its South Surrey location in 2001 and became a non-profit society the following February.
Over 18 years, it’s estimated the Launching Pad has provided room and board for 2,000 men.
Residents are provided with meals, counseling, life-skills training and employment and education programs.
At any given time, the house is home to up to 30 homeless men suffering from alcoholism and addiction.
The house currently provides 28 beds (six single and 11 double rooms) of transitional housing for homeless individuals in recovery.
Of the 27 current residents, 15 have two years of sobriety.
Tony Bougher, a Langley resident, has made it past his first year.
Bougher has the Bhuddist Om, from the prayer mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, tattooed on the palm of his right hand, a souvenir of his days as a street musician in Portland, Ore., when he performed as part of a band called Land of the Blind.
Those were fun times, he says, but the fun included a lot of drugs and alcohol, and it eventually overwhelmed him.
After 13½ months at Launching Pad, he has, finally, resumed painting, and one of his first projects is completing a long-delayed commission, of a rustic barn in a field.
For several months after he got his paints and canvasses out of storage, he couldn’t bring himself to touch them.
He was scared that would make him want to go back to using.
“I used to only think I could paint with the use of drugs and alcohol,” Bougher says.
He knows better now.
“I’m excited by the painting,” he says.
His home is one half of a shared room that he calls his “sanctuary.”
“If I had never come to this place, I would never have had the opportunity to learn as many things about myself as fast I did,” Bougher tells a visitor.
“I would never have learned in 10 years what I learned (here) in one year.”
It costs around $550 a month to house each resident of Launching Pad, a bargain compared to the thousands of dollars a homeless, addicted man can cost the system in police, court and hospital expenses over the same period.
In 2007, when the society was facing shutdown because the then-owner of the leased building was going to sell the property, the provincial government stepped in.
Victoria provided a down payment of $205,000 in the form of a grant towards the purchase of the building, plus another $500,000 in the form of a mortgage.
Annual operational funding is provided through the provincial government’s Direct Access Program.
But the building they bought is a 70-year-old wood-frame structure with single-glazed windows and dodgy weatherstripping.
“Whenever the wind blows, our curtains move, whether our windows are open or not,” Falconer says.
The 70-year-old furnace is not the most efficient, either.
The industrial stove in the kitchen is more than 10 years old and showing its age, too.
Falconer hopes to find funding to build a new home on the current lot that would increase the number of beds from 28 to 50, with another 12 available for emergency shelter.
For more information about Launching Pad, visit www.launching-pad.org
To view more photos, click here.