In The Sound of Music, Maria notes that “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” The Psalm 23 Transition Society at 59 Mile north of Clinton aims to be that window for men who are stuck in addiction, and to give back to the community at the same time.
“People ask ‘How do people come to you?’” says Marvin Declare, Psalm 23’s founder and executive director. “We get referrals from families, and will talk to people themselves. There’s always a small window of opportunity, when you’re stuck in addictions and thought processes, where you tell yourself ‘I’m ready.’ We don’t want to say ‘Give us a call in three or four days,’ because that call will never come. When someone reaches out we want to be there for them.”
Declare knows about that window from personal experience. In 1996 he realized he was on the point of losing everything.
“My son was three years old, and I was not going to be the father he needed, and my wife needed a husband who would love her. I tried to end my life, made two suicide attempts. I had a lot of medications, and took them. When I wasn’t successful I went and cried for an entire day.
“I knew I had to get serious, and that if I wanted this I would have to work hard. I had a lot of pain to work through.” He went into recovery on July 6, 1996, and when he came out he went to the Counsellor Training Institute of Canada for a two-year course. When he finished he asked to be sent anywhere but downtown Vancouver, where he had come from.
“So they sent me to the Union Gospel Mission [in the Downtown Eastside],” Declare says with a laugh. “I did a 480-hour practicum and then was hired as a counsellor. I saw people keep coming back, and said that we needed to help more with transition. I had a vision, but the Union Gospel Mission said that it wasn’t their vision.”
Declare knew there was a need for help in Williams Lake, so drove up there with his wife and son to see what he could do. He saw some wonderful properties, but ended up returning to their home in Abbotsford and began treating people there. He had no way of knowing at the time that he had driven right past the property in 59 Mile that would one day be home to the Psalm 23 Society.
He had recently suffered his seventh concussion after a fall from a ladder, and was getting terrible migraines. His supervisor at the Union Gospel Mission came to him with long term disability papers.
“I knew I could sign them, but God was calling me, and I knew I wasn’t going back to the Mission. I told my wife I couldn’t sign the papers, couldn’t tell them I’m coming back when I’m not.” Declare wrote a thank you letter to the Mission instead of a resignation letter, and says he hasn’t had another migraine since then. “It was the right thing to do.”
This was in 2004, three years after Declare had started seeing people in his Abbotsford home. In 2005 the Psalm 23 Transition Society received charitable status, and before long Declare knew he wanted a property that was away from everything. He got a letter about a possible property in 59 Mile, but the cost was too high. Two years later he got a phone call saying that if he took over the property, the Vancouver Foundation would take over the mortgage, so in September 2010 the treatment centre was moved to 59 Mile, where people could be taken away from their stressors and given an opportunity for a new life.
Declare says that the program is for men, which is where the need is. “We do help out families, but the focus will stay on men.” The first step is a 2.5 hour intake, where people go over the guidelines, get tested to see if anything is in their system, go through a variety of safety checks, and can have detox arranged if it’s needed. Next is a 40-day assessment phase, where people start the program and get used to the 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily schedule, which is very rigid and very structured.
“If someone can survive the first 40 days they have a very good chance of completing the program. It often takes one or two weeks for someone to say ‘It’s not for me.’ This isn’t a flophouse; it’s not somewhere to play around.”
A foundation phase designed to last for three months follows. “There is classwork and projects. Some people might take longer [to complete it], but it’s never shorter. Once people have that foundation there’s a four-month intensive recovery phase, which is about looking a little more at goals. What is my future going to be, what is my support path? We look at social aspects, what will people do for work, will they be going back to school.”
Mentorship is for a year, and people can then go on to staff. “Part of the vision of Psalm 23 is raising people from the inside, going through the program, giving back to the community.”
Last summer the Society made a shift, deciding to focus on fewer people with more one-on-one time. “We did about $250,000 in renovations three years ago, put in a commercial kitchen, and had had enough donations of queen and double beds to replace the two sets of bunk beds in each room. We have six bedrooms and had the okay to accommodate 24 people, but when we looked at this we said that the program is a long-term avenue, and we wanted to create homes for people. Now we have two beds in each room and can do 12 people, but prefer nine or 10 at a time. That’s the comfortable bubble.”
The Society can take men aged 19 and up, and while the majority of men come from around B.C., Declare says they have had quite a few from Alberta. One person currently there is from Halifax, and they had someone from as far afield as Africa. “People hear about us through word of mouth. ‘Someone’s son who went through your program gave us your number.’ One person from Victoria heard about us through the man who shod his horses.”
The Society does a good deal of community outreach, and works closely with the Clinton and District Community Forest. “They will bring truckloads of logs to our property. Part of our program is getting our guys used to chainsaws, so we bring someone in to teach them how to use them.
“The men cut, split, and stack the wood so it’s seasoned, and in the fall we put it on a flat deck deck and deliver half-a-cord to each person on our list. It helps us give back, helps the Community Forest, and they give us wood for our own heating purposes.”
The Society gets calls from the Clinton Seniors’ Centre to set up and take down chairs and tables for events. Recently Huber Farms had some fencing they needed put up, so the Society went and helped out. “It’s about giving back to the community without expecting something in return.”
The Society developed a catering arm several years ago. “We do a cooking class with students every Thursday, and it’s an ongoing daily thing, so we looked at catering. It began as a small part of what we did, then started to spread, and now we almost have our annual people. In November and December we get busy and booked up, and have a couple of events a week, so we’ll see what happens this year.
“We’ve had some people who went through our program who now work with catering companies in the Lower Mainland. A lot of the men really enjoy cooking, and their families and wives call us up to thank us. It’s about raising these opportunities for men to develop skill sets.”
The Society has recently been busy building a thrift store, which is scheduled to open on the Labour Day weekend. “With COVID-19 we’ve had to cancel every fundraiser we would have had, so the thrift store is a move towards funding the daily programs that we do, and helping bring down the cost for individuals who go through our program.”
The thrift store has insulation and will be heated through the winter. “We’re looking at opening Wednesday through Saturday, which gives us a couple of days to restock. We have some lady volunteers who have shown interest and want to be part of it, and one of the guys in our mentorship will be trained to be on the business side of that.
“We’re trying to get a Psalm 23 business component. When men go through our program it’s more than just trying to give them recovery, it’s about job preparation, work ethic. We’re in the process of putting in an addition that will be a woodworking shop. We have a donor who wants us to raise $20,000, and they will donate $100,000 in new woodworking equipment. There are lots of exciting things going on, and we’re looking at all the positives that have happened. We’re trying to get buildings completed and grants written. We got a gaming grant and $30,000 more to operate this year, and got $20,000 for a cube van that’s in better shape than the one we have for pickups, deliveries, etc.. We’ve been blessed in that area.”
Declare says that the thrift store will help the Society with its funding. “There’s only so much you can fundraise, and it seems like we have one fundraiser after another to raise money to keep the doors open. This way we can do things and train people, doing something more than just fundraising. It’s more sustainable, and a way to give back to the community, which is a huge belief of ours. We have stuff, and will put together care packages for people so they can restart their lives.
“And we look forward to building relationships. When we’ve had yard sales we’ve had so many people come in and tell us the story of their son, or something they’ve gone through. We’ve had times where we’ve given our card to them and their son has come through our program, or we’ve gone and done interventions. You never know what’s going to happen. We just want to be available. It’s about raising and restoring lives, one person at a time, so people can find the start of the healing process for themselves.”
Declare’s sobriety date is Sept. 9, and this year he’ll be celebrating 24 years clean of drugs and alcohol. “I still go to counselling. It’s not about weakness, it’s about self-care. Usually on my sobriety date I try to find a place where I can be alone and do a lot of reflecting, remember how far I’ve come, be grateful.
”Am I a grateful person? Yes. For some reason I can be part of helping other people. I know what it’s like. I know the strength of the enemy. I tell people I will go to the front lines to fight your addictions, but you might think I’m fighting you.
“The 12-step program is one track, the religious aspect is the other. The 12-step program is to look at your personal journey and not blame others, and the spiritual track is about learning to forgive ourselves and others, learning to separate what’s my stuff, what’s other people’s stuff. Some people are trying to heal from stuff that isn’t theirs.
“I’m trying to provide that hope for people. It’s a wonderful gift to be alive and to serve in this ministry.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the Psalm 23 Transition Society, for themselves or others, can email email@example.com or call (250) 459-2220.