Vern Jensen used to be a welder working on oil rigs in northern Alberta. He says he was making a lot of cash and doing a lot of cocaine.
“I had two separate lives. I had my family life, which I did very well. I was a great father and great husband. All the bills were paid. Then I would go out of town and I would party pretty hard,” Jensen said.
Easily available cocaine is what caused his life to unravel.
“Back when I started cocaine, I was about 13 years old. It was very hard to obtain. It was not an easy task. Nowadays, it’s everywhere,” Jensen said.
Jensen finally got the help he needed at the Dream Centre in Calgary. He attended the addictions program and stayed at the centre’s transitional housing.
“In our 17-year history, it is the largest waitlist and it continues to grow,” said Chris Sciberras, program director and mental health clinician at the Dream Centre.
Over the past several years, Sciberras said the Dream Centre has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people applying for addictions treatment.
Alcohol is still the number one issue with clients, followed by methamphetamines, cocaine and opioids, according to Sciberras.
Jensen said he has lost friends to tainted cocaine.
“The drugs themselves have changed. They are putting different ingredients in and things are changing that way. It’s not what it used to be,” Jensen said.
Donations to the Dream Centre were down in 2019 and the non-profit faith-based recovery organization is still waiting for word from the provincial government on funding for 2020. Staff have had to become creative in raising money by opening a café in the centre last fall, which is open to the public.
But Sciberras said more money is needed to provide low-cost transitional housing for clients to stay at after the treatment programs.
“It’s crucial because one of the biggest downfalls in relapse is isolation. Someone who builds a foundation but then steps out and feels isolated and alone,” Sciberras said.
The Dream Centre has dozens of properties in Calgary that include apartments for its community housing program. It currently serves 370 clients, which puts the organization at capacity.
As for Jensen, he credits staying in transitional and community housing as well as the faith-based programs for his success. He now works at the Dream Centre, has been sober since July 2018 and has obtained his fitness trainer certificate.
“I’m 43 years old and I feel I’m in the best shape of my life, the best health. I’ve never found such happiness. I truly am happy,” Jensen said.