Drug rehab developers want to create facility in Vankleek Hill
Not in my back yard.
That is probably most people's response when they hear the words, "drug rehab center." But proponents of a drug rehabilitation facility in Vankleek Hill's historic convent say that times have changed and they hope people listen before they judge.
If their plan for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center goes ahead, no one will even know it's there, they say.
Last week, Denis Riel, president of the administration board of the not-for-profit Fondation L'Ange Gardien Foundation and psychotherapist Daniel Champagne, who is general manager of the Ontario branch of the foundation, met with The Review to talk about their project.
They want people to understand how the facility will work and agreed to go public before they present their plan to Champlain Township council on October 10. An open house is also being organized, tentatively at the Vankleek Hill Curling Club.
As of last Friday, the date and location had yet to be confirmed.
The foundation wants to lease the convent, located at 159 Higginson Street in Vankleek Hill and will renovate the interior to accommodate 70 residents.
The two were aware that rumours have already been circulating about the project.
Right off the top, Champagne emphasized that there is a new generation of rehab centers; staff is professionally trained with a ratio of 11 professionals to one resident.
"That is the important thing we would like to communicate. In the past 15 years, regulations and accreditation requirements have changed. The Vankleek Hill facility would be working in partnership with OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) and with other local agencies, local insurance companies and social services networks," Champagne said.
The pair said the facility will be similar to the Centre Mélaric in St-André-d'Argenteuil, Quebec.
For the Vankleek Hill facility, residents will sign up for the seven-month rehabilitation voluntarily, explained Champagne. Residents will not be allowed to leave the property without supervision and if a resident does leave without permission, he or she will have to leave the program and re-apply after 30 days have passed.
Those who sign up for the program are those whose lives have reached a desperate point, Champagne says. What is needed is a secure environment, with firm rules, to bring about de-programming and stop the downward spiral. "Residents are up at 6:30 a.m. and dressed by 7:15 a.m. When they arrive, we spend the first hour reviewing the rules and they understand and agree to them," Champagne said.
"Part of what we do is to try to take them back to moments in their lives when they were happy . . . and these moments were not connected to alcohol or drugs," Champagne said.
The key is to remove people from their regular environment and put them into a different environment that is secure.
The need for such a facility in our region is acute, continued Champagne.
"In this area, people are closing their eyes to this problem. And of course, people are reluctant to talk about drug or other problems like this. Everybody knows somebody who has this problem or knows someone who knows someone. We have heard that inch for inch, the drug problems in Hawkesbury are worse than in Montreal," Champagne commented.
Why the convent?
"We fell in love with the place," says Champagne.
While different communities were considered as locations, one step inside the convent and Champagne said he could feel the positive energy of the building.
"We don't want to make any changes," Champagne said, referring to the convent. "It is a part of the history of Vankleek Hill. The chapel is a very special place and for sure, it will be used by the residents. In other such facilities, where we are lucky enough to have a chapel, we know that residents often ask to go there just to think," Champagne explained.
That said, Champagne admits that there are extensive renovations to be done inside the building, to ensure that all is done to conform to building codes and to adapt the building for its new purpose.
Because former owner Josée Tom had changed the zoning from institutional use to accommodate her proposed use of the building as a spa, now a new application for a zoning amendment is necessary to permit its proposed use as an institution.
After purchasing the building a few years ago, Tom abandoned her idea for a spa when confronted with additional unforeseen costs related to provincial building code requirements. The former convent has been for sale for several months now, at an asking price of $1.25 million.
Disturbing the peace?
"I know it is easy for me to say it, but after we are open, 99 per cent of the people in town won't even know we are there," says Champagne, who says that everything will be quiet, including on the grounds.
"We want to hire local people as much as possible and want to offer people a chance to change how they live out the rest of their lives. We want to offer people space to breathe, so that they are not always looking over their shoulder. And then we will help them re-integrate into society. We know that people still think of rehab centers in a negative way. But these residents will be people who have decided to make a change. We are not taking people out of jail to bring them here; this is a voluntary program."
Denis Riel, who accompanied Champagne for The Review interview, is a semi-retired businessman who owns property in Alfred, Ontario. He has been involved in retailing since the age of 16.
A former Canadian Tire store owner, Riel now owns two shopping centers in Gatineau and says he was looking for a challenge and decided to get involved with the foundation.
None of the Fondation l'Ange Gardien board members (there are currently fewer than 10 board members) are investing in the project. Riel said he is there to oversee day-to-day operations, finances and make sure that everything is working properly.