By Jim Bell, CEO, Siloam Mission

** This column first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press **

You’ve probably heard of the long waiting list to get into addictions treatment programs in Manitoba.

People who are desperate for help often have to wait weeks, if not months, to be admitted into a program.

But did you know there’s a big problem when they successfully finish the program, too?

Here’s what’s happening in Winnipeg.

Many men and women coming out of addictions recovery are stumbling.

To be clear, they’re not struggling because the programs aren’t successful. Most treatment is very effective during the course of the program.

But people are stumbling because they have no supports in place when they get out. Without close family and friends, and often without a place to go, they relapse.

And they fall back into the unforgiving cycle that destroys them.

We see this happen far too often at Siloam Mission.

All of the progress courageous men and women have made can be erased in an instant when they have nowhere — and nobody — to turn to after doing the hard work of getting sober.

But now, we have a plan to do something about it.

This month we’re starting construction on 20 addiction recovery units, right on-site at our main building on 300 Princess Street.

These units will provide stability, support and safety for people completing addictions recovery — the point when they’re at greatest risk for relapsing.

Our goal is that with this help, they’ll able to stay on track. And they’ll be able to make the transition to productive lives faster.

There is a need for emergency stop-gap measures, like food and shelter. We’ll always continue to provide those.

But this is the next step in the recovery and transition process.

It’s an effort to turn off the tap on one stream of people falling into homelessness. If we do this right, it will not only help people move on quickly from treatment programs — it will also prevent them from becoming chronically homeless.

It will save our system economic cost. And most importantly, it will save the high human cost that comes with being homeless.

Each of the 20 units will look very much like an apartment — with a bed, desk, chair and minifridge. The common areas will include a dining room, kitchen, laundry room and a multipurpose area.

This will be a structured living space set up to help people in recovery make the transition to self-sufficiency. And because it’s in our building, people will have access to other services — and case workers — so that they can move forward with their lives with confidence.

I’m grateful for the seed funding provided by the province. It allowed us to get going on the project.

But to make these addiction recovery units successful, we are mostly relying on the generosity of Manitobans.

Over the last three decades, kindhearted Winnipeggers and Manitobans have always stepped up to meet the moment. I’m praying we can count on them again.

I understand the timing to build something new seems concerning to some. Like most other organizations, COVID-19 has challenged us beyond compare. And we are heading into a long and hard winter.

Frankly, I’m not sure what the future holds.

All of our fundraising events have been cancelled. We’re not able to meet with donors the way we used to. And despite our stringent safety protocols, we will continue to have cases of COVID-19 within our four walls to deal with.

But this isn’t a time when Winnipeg’s most vulnerable men and women need us less. It’s a time when they need us even more.

It’s an ambitious project, but the payoff for our community and our city is well worth every ounce of effort. In the end, more people will have a better chance to be freed from addictions and homelessness — ready to take their place in productive society.

And isn’t that what we all want?