Union Gospel Mission wilderness program uses great outdoors to help addicts turn their lives around

Click to play video: 'Mother Nature rehap helps homeless and addicts' Mother Nature rehap helps homeless and addicts
Mon, Jun 12: A program by the Union Gospel Mission uses the great outdoors to help the homeless and addicts turn their lives around. Paul Johnson went along – Jun 12, 2017

Jonas Grandander and Tom Sauls are headed for a quiet night of camping in Garibaldi Park, a time to relax and reflect on how far they’ve come.

“I was smoking crack cocaine and my life was going down the tube real fast,” Sauls said.

“I never thought that this would ever happen,” Grandander said.

Grandander struggled with substance abuse for years. His job on cruise ships led to a taste for heavy drinking that he couldn’t shake and he found himself in the Downtown Eastside.

Sauls too struggled with addiction and homelessness.

Both ended up at the Union Gospel Mission and have stayed sober for years, thanks in part to the mission’s Expeditions Program which gets recovering addicts out of the city and into nature.

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“You have a chance to do a lot of thinking out here whereas in the city — in the Downtown Eastside and that area — there is so much commotion going on, there is so much distraction,” Grandander said.

Union Gospel Mission says Expeditions is among their most successful programs for keeping people sober. The transition from city streets to tranquil wildlife can be life-changing, according to addictions counsellor Jack Wagner.

“As we walk here and we watch them stop, point to things in nature, taking time to enjoy the beauty,” he said, “you see men who’ve come alive.”

— With files from Paul Johnson

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