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  • Gayle Baker

Umbrella Society - Providing Shelter From the Storms of Addiction in Victoria and now Salt Spring!

July 21

Only ten gathered to welcome Umbrella Society’s (https://www.umbrellasociety.ca/) Rebecca Wakefield, Evan James, and Corey Burtini. While so many others would have also enjoyed what we learned and the rich conversation, those who came were very glad that they joined this ASK Salt Spring gathering.


After offering our Territorial Acknowledgement, Evan began by speaking about Umbrella’s commitment to supporting those in all stages of addiction, sharing that he, also, was recovering, delighted to contribute to that journey of recovery of so many others. Currently the manager of Training and Education, his association with the Umbrella Society began as a client when a caring Umbrella Society support worker visited him at the hospital. Now offering that help to others, his pleasure derived from being part of the Umbrella team was clearly-evident.


Rebecca, also a recovering addict, spoke with love of her Umbrella Society role, including leading an eight-week long in-person women’s support group for those in the early recovery stages. She is also deeply-satisfied with her role as a peer support worker in the Addictions Medicine Consult Service visiting patients in Royal Jubilee Hospital who are struggling with substance use/addition and mental health concerns, one of many programs offered in partnership with Islands Health. Corey, with lived experience as a mother and sister of the many struggling with addiction, lives on Salt Spring Monday - Friday, managing the temporary supportive housing facility at Kings Lane.


As most of us knew very little about the Umbrella Society, a welcome newcomer to Salt Spring care services, we began by getting some basic information: A nonprofit society established in Victoria in 2000, the Umbrella Society is dedicated to offering accessible support for individuals experiencing addiction and its concurrent mental health challenges through a wide range of programs.

Umbrella was founded by a man struggling with addiction who was able to start his process of recovery alone but realized that his difficult journey would have been far easier had someone been walking by his side. Committed to creating an organization to do just that, the support of Umbrella Society workers has changed the lives of countless once-hopeless Victorians. Small for years, the Umbrella Society has recently expanded, developing numerous partnerships with other support organizations. Committed to removing barriers to this support, most services (except recovery housing) are free. Understanding that the cry for help needs immediate response, Umbrella responds quickly, with minimal waits for its one-on-one outreach, counseling, support groups, and recovery housing.


Umbrella has three abstinence-based Supportive Recovery Homes n Victoria for men, one housing approximately eleven men in their early stages of recovery and needing structure, curfews, and 24-hour support. Offering non-judgmental care to those in widely variable stages of recovery, the daily schedule is flexible, leaving residents free to work, volunteer, and/or attend school. While all recovery home residents have committed to be drug- and alcohol-free, workers are compassionate and supportive when one relapses, seeking the safe space they need to begin their recovery process again. Residents pay rent, averaging $800/month (including two meals a day and a community fridge).


Two smaller, with approximately four residents, men’s recovery homes are designed for those in the later stages of recovery who need less structure and support. Rent for these smaller homes is approximately $500 a month and does not include food.


In all of these recovery homes, there is no limit to the duration of the stay. This is because support workers have observed that when the length of stay is limited, residents too often waste this precious recovery time seeking other homes in preparation for needing to soon move again.


Two of the recovery homes are owned by the Umbrella Society, and the third is rented. All Umbrella recovery homes are in Victoria neighborhoods. And, the landlord of the rented home loves Umbrella and renting to them. Where else would you get such good tenants who are substance-free, quiet, respectful, and supervised? While open to purchasing other recovery homes if funding were available, renting has been working well for Umbrella.


Counseling: Umbrella offers free counseling, both on site and via Zoom for individuals experiencing substance use and the accompanying mental health challenges. Free counseling is also available for their families and loved ones. When asked whether Salt Springers know about this free counseling, Evan responded that it was unlikely that our community is aware of this free, accessible resource. So - pass the word: https://www.umbrellasociety.ca/program/family-counselling-2/)!


Partnership with Island Health: Umbrella partners with Island Health on nine addiction support programs including those in hospitals, transitional housing, encampments, and correctional institutions. A surprise to us, Island Health and Umbrella operate an outreach program on Salt Spring. Did you know that a worker comes to our island every Tuesday to support members of our community with substance use challenges? This worker also builds partnerships with other local healthcare organizations. Want to know more? Call 250-380-0595 or check out the website for more information.


Partnering with a number of agencies, Umbrella provides support at four Victoria Transitional Housing sites. (Transitional housing is defined as temporary supportive housing designed to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing by offering support, advocacy, addiction resources, training, and education. Unlike recovery housing, transitional housing does not ban substance use. While encouraging abstinence, safe use of substances is allowed at these homes.


Umbrella offers a wide range of Support Groups focusing on many different populations, both in person (during non working hours) as well as Zoom. While the Zoom sessions were the result of COVID, they are continuing and are very valuable to many, including those with mobility challenges, social fears, and, yes. . . those who are not in Victoria - like Salt Springers!


Specific support groups include:

  • Groups for women;

  • Intensive journaling;

  • SMART Recovery, an alternative to 12-step programs: (https://www.smartrecovery.org/);

  • Hammer time, focused on trades workers needing support;

  • Four week long sessions meeting four days each week that offer a variety of educational topics relevant for those in early recovery; and

  • The list goes on. . .

All free, some of these sessions require registration while others are drop-in.


Referrals and Document Drop In services are also offered at Umbrella’s Victoria office. These free services include support completing referrals to services such as:

On Salt Spring, Umbrella offers, as noted above, outreach services every Tuesday. It is also the operator and support team for the residents of Kings Lane, the BC Housing temporary site that will be relocated to Drake Road when its 28-bed supportive housing community is ready for occupancy. Able to accommodate 18 residents, Kings Lane is nearly full. Residents are selected from applications on the BC Housing Registry (https://housingapplication.bchousing.org/olf/faces/welcome). Seeking to house the most vulnerable, a team of local organizations work together to identify Kings Lane residents.


Kings Lane is staffed by four support workers 9-5, seven days a week; evening security is available after hours. Residents are given two meals a day as well as having access to a fridge 24/7. As one who is on site practically all the time, Corey is proud of the community that has been built. Despite initial concerns by neighbours, she is also pleased with neighbourhood acceptance. Differing from a recovery house, this supportive housing is what is considered a wet site rather than requiring abstinence. Committed to a safe and supportive community, residents sign a contract before moving in and understand that those who misbehave and ignore warnings can be asked to leave.


When asked where on Salt Spring one could go to when they are ready for recovery, we were not surprised to learn that there are no recovery homes on Salt Spring known to these Umbrella managers. And, of course, the ideas flew, everyone wondering how our community could support Umbrella to rent (or purchase) a recovery home accommodating up to 12 on Salt Spring. Any ideas?


Focused on accessible, free support services for those struggling with substances and the accompanying mental health issues, participants shared their opinion that Umbrella’s entry into Salt Spring’s support service is a very good thing, indeed. Impressive Victoria-based numbers tell us that in 2022, Umbrella helped 12,446 through its outreach programs, 864 families were helped through its free counseling, and 42,384 supportive conversations took place with clients over coffee.


As 1:00 had already arrived, we thanked Corey, Rebecca, and Evan for spending time to tell us more about Umbrella, their deep caring, enthusiasm for the amazing work of the Umbrella Society, and willingness to do more and more to help those struggling with substances. (Thank-you Evan, Rebecca, and Corey!)


Sadly, MP Elizabeth May, still recovering, will not be our special ASK Salt Spring guest this Friday. July 28 as expected, promising to come soon. Thankfully, our Chamber of Commerce has filled the gap. Please join us to welcome manager Alexander, president Dayle and our enthusiastic Chamber board members this Friday, July 28, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) Courtyard.

Chairs, chocolate chip cookies, and shade is provided; as coffee is tricky outdoors, please bring your favorite drink.


What would you like to ask them?

  • What are your top priorities for the rest of this year and 2024?

  • What are you biggest challenges?

  • Please tell up about your biggest successes.

  • Can you give us and update on the bus shelter near the Visitors’ Information Centre?

  • And?

Please join us to welcome our hardworking Chamber this Friday, July 28!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings and

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings?


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!


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