Volken recovery the ‘real deal,’ Surrey looks to biz licensing to combat flop houses

SURREY — Those fighting addiction deserve dignity.

It’s a phrase repeated often by Jonquil Hallgate, executive director of Surrey Urban Mission.

Working on the front lines, she constantly hears of "recovery home" operators who are less than kind, simply in it to make a quick buck, and let addicts continue to feed their habit.

But sitting in her wheelchair under the roof of the John Volken Academy during its official opening on April 24, she was pleased with what she saw.

"It’s a wonderful example of what somebody who’s in business can create to address social issues. It’s a great example of a place that has dignity and respect. It’s a lovely building, it’s big, it’s spacious," she said.

Hallgate would like to see more of this model of recovery centres in Surrey, not the "flop houses," of which there are many, she added.

"I think that it continues to perpetrate the myths about people who are living with addiction challenges or people who are homeless," she said of unethical operations. "If we can see facilities like this, with programs that are ethical, where people are actually having opportunities to move forward and to develop competency and capacity in their life, that people on the outside looking in will start to see it differently."

The John Volken Academy is an $80-million addiction recovery centre, which utilizes a "therapeutic community" approach to recovery.

It was founded by John Volken, a German immigrant who rose from rags to riches, creating United Furniture Warehouse. In 2004, he sold his business to begin a new adventure and give back.

People in the two-year Volken program, also known as a "life skills academy," work in the Price Pro store and live in the homes adjacent to it.

"It’s different than a traditional medical model of treatment," explained Marshall Smith, VP of programs.

"It’s differentiated by the use of the community in a holistic way to support the addict through a process of recovery. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and most often what we see in typical treatment models is bringing an acute response to what is a very chronic problem. So in the long-term therapeutic community model… we teach them how to stay in recovery despite running into life’s challenges."

There were 16 students in the program in 2009. Today there are roughly 40, and the newbuilding has room to house some 150 people.

The grand opening of the John Volken Academy featured a speech by celebrated philosopher Deepak Chopra. Click here to read his comments on addiction.

john volken recovery


While many sing the praises of the John Volken Academy, the facility is not without its detractors.

Doug Elford with the Newton Community Association said there’s a real split in the community.

"Some people are dead against it, some people favour it," he told the Now the day of the opening.

"There’s mixed emotions, mixed reactions to the opening. We’re wondering about the fact that there could be expansion of this, and that’s a concern of ours as well."

Elford takes comfort in knowing the Volken operation is regulated, but has concerns about how many people slip through the cracks.

Jude Hannah, a community advocate behind ReNewton Nation, supports the project.

She toured the facility last year, and met with many of its students.

"I was impressed by the way the program is structured," she said. "These young people are committed to their recovery and it shows in the way they act. There is an atmosphere of respect and support for one another. From what I witnessed, it appears to work well."

Liz Walker, chairperson of the Newton Community Association, is one who fought the project tooth and nail.

"We had a huge opposition to this and they went and approved it anyway," she said. "We said, ‘This is way too many people.’ We felt very misled about things."

Surrey council approved the first phase of Welcome Home (the academy’s former name)in 2009 despite stiff community opposition.The first phase (36 units) was passed in October 2009.

At the time, residents said they already had their fair share of such things, and some opposed the project because of its size and feared its clients, some who would be there under a court order, would cause trouble in the neighbourhood.

Walker said the community has many lowincome families, and when potentially risky people are brought into the area, it increases anxiety.

"If you don’t have the money to pay out that $300 deductible for ICBC when your window gets busted, you’re not going to get your car fixed. Bikes are constantly getting stolen around here in the neighbourhood."

Walker said she, her husband and son have all been threatened by drug dealers.

People have "essentially given up" in the community, according to Walker.

"They gave up a long time ago because although we put up a large opposition to Hyland House, they ignored us. We did the same thing with Welcome Home."

Former city councillor Marvin Hunt,now Liberal MLA for Surrey-Panorama, has supported the Volken project since the beginning.

At the opening, Hunt said it was "gratifying" to be standing in the completed facility."

John’s done a great job and it’s wonderful when you have a patron that has the resources to be able to make the program work and to be able to give the infrastructure behind programs.

Programs rise and fall, and can do good, but if you don’t have the resources behind it, it’s going to fail.

"Hunt said there are plenty of so-called "recovery homes" in the city, but they are essentially flop houses.

"They’re places for people on drugs to hang out," he added. "They’re not recovery houses but they get given that name. This is the real deal."


Currently, there are 48 Surrey recovery homes licensed through the ministry’s Assisted Living Registrar.

These homes have capacity for 373 residents – 60 of which are Volken. And every spot is filled, according to the ministry.

As of April 28, there are 64 recovery homes operating in Surrey that are not registered, according to Surrey’s bylaw enforcement manager Jas Rehal.

"These homes have been inspected and there are no issues," he explained. "These homes will be advised to get registered."

Then, there are 21 so-called "problem homes" under investigation, added Rehal.

"These are the homes where people are just using recovery home as their window for their other business interests," he said. "There’s no recovery going on, people are left alone to fend for themselves, there’s a number of them in the house – 10, 12, 15 people."

Rehal said at a police committee meeting earlier this year, staff was directed to look into business licensing, and whether that could be an effective tool to combat problem operations.

Business licensing is something Coun. Mike Starchuk, a former firefighter, believes could work.

"Right now, the city requirement is that they conform to the fire regulations that have been created for the City of Surrey," Starchuk told the Now last year. "If there was a business license component of that, and if there were people that would call into bylaws to complain about a business, then we would have the authority to say because we’ve had complaints, we’re now going to revoke your business license."

Rehal hopes to have a report to council in the next couple months.


john volken recovery

The grand opening of the John Volken Academy featured celebrated philosopher Deepak Chopra, an alternative medicine advocate, author and promoter of spirituality.

Chopra, who has described as a “controversial New-Age guru” by the New York Times, spoke at a VIP reception at the opening, where he provided insight into addiction.

“Everyone is addicted to something,” he said.

“To be born is to be attached to an experience. When we refer to addiction as a disease, it is a memory that is so strong – usually a memory of pleasure – and it’s so strong that even though it’s exhausting our energy, the pleasure has exhausted the energy, the memory is so strong that the person has an inability to get out of it. That’s the disease that we call addiction.”

There are many things people become addicted to other than substances, he said.

“They’re addicted to sensations of different kinds. They’re addicted to power. They’re addicted to security. In fact, the biggest cause of insecurity is the addiction to security. So I would say that everybody who’s born has a predisposition to some form of addiction.”

Chopra told the crowd the opposite of addiction is total freedom.

“To be addicted is to be a prisoner to whatever you’re addicted to. The extreme end of that opposite side is total freedom which means every moment is a spontaneous expression of our consciousness.”

He said as babies, we are born totally free.

“When we are born that’s our ground state… It’s joy, it’s energy, it is free, it has curiosity, it has wonder, and every moment is a moment of joy. And I would say joyful energetic body, a very loving, compassionate heart and an alert mind full of curiosity and wonder and a spirit that is totally free. Then the conditioning starts.”

According to Chopra, no matter how addicted one is, there’s always a part of a person that is completely free.

“That’s the part you need to get in touch with. That’s the spiritual approach. The word ‘healing,’ the word ‘health’ and the word ‘holy’ are actually the same word. Holy is not some kind of sanctimonious self-righteous morality, it only means that which includes everything – wholeness.

“Everything means your body, your mind, your spirit, but also your environment, which includes your relationships, which includes your social interactions, which includes the facility or the treatment and therapeutic interactions you have. It also includes certain things that are very important for healing to occur – good sleep, meditation, stress management, exercise, meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, emotional healing and food. All these things go into recovery.”


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