Rob Thiessen, Duff L’Heureux and Andrea Corrigan, in gymnasium where Mat Program takes place in Burnett Fellowship Church. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

Mat Program offers a way off streets

Four Maple Ridge churches take turns opening doors

It’s often a question of timing.

If you’re on the streets, in deep addiction, being offered a place to clean up and a way out has to come at the right time.

Which is what happened to Duff L’Heureux, when he was on the streets in Surrey.

Struggling with a life-long alcohol problem, L’Heureux lost his apartment last January after being physically ejected by his landlord. With no place to go, he knew what faced him on the street. So he wandered into Surrey Memorial Hospital.

“I went there crying for help, because I was feeling suicidal, because I was homeless, again. And I had been homeless before and I did not want to be it, again.”

He was there for several hours, until staff referred him to the Mat Program in Maple Ridge, operated by the Hope for Freedom Society.

He’s now been sober since the day he took a cab to Maple Ridge.

“I’ve got 40 years of drinking under my belt.

When he was on the street, suffering from depression and anxiety, his days would consist of working at day labour jobs, then hitting the bar to get as drunk as he could. He’d then go to the Front Room Resource Centre in Surrey to sit at a table, and fall asleep for the night.

“And then I would do it all over again the next day. It makes it so hard to get out of there.”

L’Heureux stayed at the Mat Program for three days before getting a bed at Hilland House, a place of recovery in Maple Ridge. It is also operated by the Hope for Freedom Society.

L’Heureux is now working on the 12-step program offered there and also helped with the Mat Program, which for the past two years has seen local churches open their doors at night and provide a bed, hot meal and breakfast during the cold months – Oct. 1 and March 31.

This past winter, during the program’s second year, Maple Ridge Baptist, Burnett Fellowship, Maple Ridge Alliance and NorthRidge Foursquare churches participated by sharing their buildings and volunteers. Others from the community also helped.

Since Anita Place Tent City closed temporarily in March, the mat program’s numbers have increased, said Rob Thiessen, with Hope For Freedom.

L’Heureux said there are good people in shelters and on the street, some “just stuck in a horrible situation.”

Once, he was walking on the street in shoes so worn out the soles were flapping on the ground. A fellow street person, a stranger, pushing a grocery cart, offered him a new pair of shoes that he’d been packing around. They didn’t fit, so the stranger took off his shoes and gave them to L’Heureux.

Many people, for whatever reason, L’Heureux said, just want to stay on the street, “in their addiction. They’re not ready yet.”

Thiessen considers the Mat Program an alternative to other programs.

“We bring them in and we move them out. So that’s what we believe is a successful shelter is that we essentially create our own vacancies,” Thiessen added.

Hope for Freedom is a faith-based organization, but doesn’t act as a church and aims to help those in need.

People’s paths to sobriety involve different approaches at different times, said program coordinator Andrea Corrigan.

Sometimes that involves following a harm-reduction approach.

“And then maybe someone’s ready to take the next step into sober living,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s one way. I think it’s a combination of different things. And just as we’re all different. Everybody’s going to find something that speaks to them.”

Thiessen said that people can stay a few years in a Hope For Freedom program because sometimes that’s how long it takes to rebuild their lives.

During this year’s Mat Program in Maple Ridge, Hope for Freedom found housing for seven people and treatment for another 16.

The latter usually involved entering the society’s residential recovery centres.

Thiessen said that the Mat Program is low-barrier because it takes people who are using right up to the moment they get into the van.

“We just don’t allow anybody to use,” on the premises.

Thiessen said he supports the Housing First principle, which prioritizes housing people in need with the hope that stability will lead to recovery.

“You have to also surround them with the services.”

He also said community buy-in is necessary for housing facilities.

Often people who were opposed homeless people change their mind when they start helping those in need.

“Everybody needs to leave their agendas at the door and work together.”

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The Mat Program runs between October and March with three local churches alternating as hosts of month-long stints of the program.

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