Prince George transitional housing celebrates 2 years of addiction recovery service

·3 min read
Gary Fraser, front left, and Ray Berube, rear right, are residents of Olive's Branch, a two-year-old transitional housing  managed by Connie Abe, executive director of Association for Advocating for Women and Community, rear left, and Olive's Branch program manager Blythe Roller, front right.  (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)
Gary Fraser, front left, and Ray Berube, rear right, are residents of Olive's Branch, a two-year-old transitional housing managed by Connie Abe, executive director of Association for Advocating for Women and Community, rear left, and Olive's Branch program manager Blythe Roller, front right. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)

Ray Berube says he would be homeless and possibly even ended in jail if he hadn't been admitted to the Olive's Branch, transitional housing in downtown Prince George, B.C., that is celebrating its second anniversary in April.

The Association for Advocating for Women and Community (AWAC) — a non-profit organization based in the northern B.C. city originally specialized in services for women struggling with addictions and homelessness — purchased a motel building at 1915 Third Avenue in 2019, turning it into a transitional housing complex of 28 suites with wraparound services for people seeking sobriety.

The wraparound services at Olive's Branch include case workers and counselling, assistance in accessing medical care, and peer support, according to a written statement last week from the B.C. Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.

Berube says living in the Olive's Branch has helped him on his road to recovery.

"I was in detox in the hospital for a month prior to coming over here," he said to CBC story producer Andrew Kurjata. "I've attempted [to become sober] many times, but … it's an everyday thing … and for me it wasn't easy."

"[Olive's Branch] is a safe house," Berube said. "We've got really good members, and it helps to have positive friends."

Ray Berube says he could have ended up in prison if he hadn't been admitted to the drug recovery program at Olive's Branch.
Ray Berube says he could have ended up in prison if he hadn't been admitted to the drug recovery program at Olive's Branch.(Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Another Olive's Branch resident Gary Fraser — who is originally from Vernon — planned to join the recovery program at the Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community and Farm, which is about 40 kilometres south of downtown Prince George. But he says he ended up in Olive's Branch because he prefers living in the city so that he can learn to deal with the real world better.

"[Counsellors at Olive's Branch] will get whatever you need," Fraser said. "They're here to look after you while you recover … and they're learning from you as you're learning from them at the same time."

According to the BC Coroners Service, 58 people died of drug overdose in Prince George in 2020. A total of 160 people are experiencing homelessness in the northern city, according to B.C. Housing's homeless count report in 2018.

Olive's Branch program manager Blythe Roller says people living with homelessness and addiction are not bad people and need help from the local community.

"If you see this person on the street in there and they're doing these things that the average person doesn't do … you need to still remember that that's somebody's son, somebody's daughter, somebody's brother and sister and cousin and nephew and uncle, and [you need] to try to help these people instead of just walking in ignorance," Roller said.

AWAC's executive director Connie Abe says over the past two years of Olive's Branch's operation, 12 residents have maintained their sobriety for more than a year, and four of them have found jobs.

"Our goal is to help individuals gain employment at the end of three years and become independent," Abe said.

AWAC is also using one floor of the 12-storey Victoria Towers apartment building on 20th Avenue to accommodate people who have gained sobriety and to help them transition to market housing.

Abe says her organization needs more support from the government and community to provide more affordable suites to people moving out of transitional housing like Olive's Branch.

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