Back on Track founder Cole Izsak (third from left) with some of the 40 clients who call his 9889 140 St. facility home. (File photo)

Surrey recovery-house operator given provincial, municipal thumbs-up

Back on Track founder breathing sigh of relief after learning his five sites will remain open

Surrey recovery-house operator Cole Izsak is breathing a sigh of relief this week, following word that five of his sites which had been ordered by the City of Surrey to shut down have been given a thumbs-up by the province.

“The best day of my life was in 2014 when my son was born, and I would define the second-best day as that day,” Izsak said Wednesday, of initial good news delivered last Thursday (Aug. 8) by city officials.

“We’re going to be fine.”

Peace Arch News reported in June that days were numbered for Izsak’s Back on Track homes, after City of Surrey bylaw officials gave notice that his business licences were being cancelled. He was given till June 21 to cease operations at three sites, and had until Thursday (Aug. 15) to vacate two others.

READ MORE: Days numbered for Surrey’s Back on Track recovery homes

The ultimatums cited “misconduct” including a failure to comply with city and provincial guidelines.

City officials told PAN at the time that the issue was Izsak’s inability to obtain provincial permits – through the Assisted Living Registry – which are a condition of municipal licensing.

Provincial officials, however, told PAN that a business licence is needed to complete an ALR registration.

Izsak, a South Surrey resident, had described the situation as a “catch-22,” and pledged to do what he could to continue operating. He had even planned a rally outside of Surrey City Hall for early July, but called it off at the last minute in response to seemingly positive strides working with the city to resolve the situation.

READ MORE: Surrey recovery-house rally cancelled

The rally message had been planned to include a call to close down Surrey recovery homes where overdose deaths have been reported – including that in December of a young South Surrey man – and conditions described as “deplorable.”

Tuesday – just two days before the final deadline to vacate – Izsak heard his ALR registrations were approved, and he expects there will be no issue obtaining his remaining licensing.

Surrey’s acting manager of public safety operations Kim Marosevich confirmed to PAN Wednesday that the city is proceeding with issuing Izsak’s licensing, “as a result of the ALR’s registration of all of Back on Track’s locations.”

Izsak said he’s “been thrilled since yesterday afternoon.” At the same time, he can’t help holding back on exhibiting his excitement “because I don’t want to jinx anything.”

He added that despite the challenges of the recent months, he has “complete respect” for steps taken by the city, and hopes it will bring a renewed focus to the city’s less-reputable operations.

“It’s been a rough couple months for me, and I understand. It needed to happen,” Izsak said. “I think the city has moved on to other recovery houses.”

Izsak said lessons learned from the ordeal have inspired him to consider getting involved in public service – he’s eyeing a run at a seat on city council in the next municipal election.

For this week, however, he has other priorities, including sharing official word of the reprieve with clients at a meeting Wednesday night (Aug. 14), and celebrating successes of three of those clients, who’ve reached one-, two- and three-year anniversaries on their recovery journeys at Back on Track.

“We’re going to have a good evening,” he said.

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