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Rebuilding lives, rebuilding communities

1 Jul 2017
Vanessa Caldwell
This article was published 7 years ago. Content may no longer be relevant.

So if the treatment sector gets someone into recovery is the job complete? Or is there more that can be done to focus that recovery away from addiction and towards building a positive future? Matua Raki National Manager Vanessa Caldwell believes there is and reports on a number of community-focused recovery initiatives she has witnessed firsthand.

We have long known in the treatment sector that addiction recovery is much more than just ‘stopping use’ or ‘reducing harm’. People experiencing addiction may have co-existing issues – most often depression and anxiety – as well as physical health concerns that need to be addressed. The associated shame and guilt results in people becoming isolated, and purpose in life can become entrenched in managing addiction.

We also know it takes a long time, typically many years, between the onset of an addiction and the time someone seeks help. So when someone puts their hand up, the system should be ready to respond. Clearly, the earlier we can start this process with someone, the more effective it is likely to be, but we have a lot of work to do before we get to this.

There is a lot of evidence that treatment works, and New Zealand has a proud history, at times world leading, of providing a range of services to support people to address their addictions and reduce harm from drug use in our communities. We have invested in developing high-quality services supported by a well trained workforce, though reports from many communities suggest we are not keeping up with increasing demand as people struggle to access the support they seek.

While advocating for more services to be available, including community based peer support, I have recognised that we in the treatment sector need to ensure we are responsive and accessible to people seeking help. Through the National Committee of Addiction Treatment (NCAT), a representative group of sector leaders, we are working to reduce barriers that the system itself has created. We are investigating access issues including making it easier for people to find services so we can improve our responsiveness. While I have paid much attention to supporting the development of high-quality treatment and improved access, I have paid less attention to what happens once someone leaves treatment.

Inadvertently, I’ve assumed that life largely takes care of itself once someone is in recovery and getting well. It’s got to be better than before, right? For some of our tangata whai ora who have good support, that will be true, but I now appreciate that many more will continue to struggle, experiencing significant barriers to employment. They’ll remain dependent on the system and locked in an addiction focused identity, albeit on the more positive end.

Fortunately, there are others who have challenged why people in recovery should be limited by their earlier experiences and others’ expectations. They’ve endeavoured to provide people real opportunities, not only to dream, but to work towards realising those dreams.

I was privileged this year to visit several people and their enterprises providing supportive and recovery focused work and training environments for people with significant barriers to employment. One of those is Steve Hodgkins, a serving Police Sergeant in Lancashire, UK. Out of frustration at seeing the same people revolving through both the criminal justice system and treatment, he established Jobs, Friends & Houses, which gives people in recovery with offending histories the chance to learn a trade and get a qualification.

At the same time, they can work in a recovery-focused environment where wellness is a key objective.

As a team, these people in recovery have renovated homes within the community of Blackpool, a town hard hit by the recession, to provide each other with high-quality, safe housing – from supported shared recovery houses to independent flats.

The enterprise is now managed by the local council, and Steve has his sights set on a new venture to build modular affordable houses within the prison, again with a focus on giving people an opportunity to obtain a trade and prepare for the workforce upon release.

Speaking with Steve and some of the team, it was easy for me to see how transformative this project has been for those directly involved and for the local community. The highly visible JFH logo on vans and uniforms around town proudly carries the message that recovery is achievable and that everyone is worth the chance at a meaningful life.

The community has responded by recognising their achievements with awards for innovation. As word spread of the high quality of work and positive attitude of the workers, new work has kept coming.

In Australia, I visited a social enterprise that has taken a slightly different approach. The Vanguard Laundry, under the banner “Changing lives one wash at a time”, was established in late 2015 and currently employs more than 20 people who have not been in paid employment before. The aim of the laundry is to provide job skills and an employment history with a support structure to help people study and transition to work they want to do.

Vanguard director Luke Terry explained that getting a long-term contract is a critical success factor because it is sustainable and gives people the confidence to make a start.

He found the biggest employment hurdle for people was inadequate transport, so management adjusted shift times to ensure that people could make use of local public transport. I asked one of the employees what he enjoyed most about his job, and he replied, “I love to be able to say to the check-out chick that I’ve been at work all day when she asks me how my day is.”

In November 2016, Odyssey Café in Auckland launched a training programme for 16–24-years-olds receiving support through Odyssey House. Trainees spend 10–12 hours per week in the café gaining on-the-job experience and working towards NZQA standards in food safety, coffee making and customer service.

Odyssey partners with Employment Works to help find trainees longer-term work. In February this year, the first four trainees graduated, having completed their NZQA standards. Families have been quick to report on the positive changes and improved confidence they have noticed in their young people.

A couple of years ago, Hone Pene started He Tohu Aroha Trust to provide a safe, holistic, recovery-focused work environment for participants in the Salvation Army Bridge Programme and Auckland’s Alcohol and Drug Treatment Courts. The Trust has contracts to supply native plants to councils to support clean waterways projects and has a small but growing upcycling business. As Hone says, “It’s about wrapping recovery around people for life, giving people purpose and a reason to get up in the morning, to contribute to making this place better for everyone, not just themselves.”

It has been a humbling reminder for me that treatment, while providing a solid platform on which to make a start at a new life, is just that – a start towards restoring mana and wellness. Like treatment, there is no one size fits all, so providing a range of opportunities that seek to enhance people’s assets rather than focus on deficits is key. Investing in people by providing positive social connections and creating sustainable futures beyond the treatment door is critical to long-term success in recovery.



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