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New addiction recovery centre for women will bring 'treatment community' focus to Barrie

'I live in Barrie, so I see it first-hand what it’s like. I know the weaknesses in the system,' says director of programs and development

The city of Barrie is in the midst of an opioid crisis, but there will soon be one more weapon in its arsenal to help fight the battle.

Cornerstone to Recovery, an addiction recovery support agency and recovery community currently serving York Region and the Greater Toronto Area, is slated to open the doors to a new 12-bed women’s residential addiction recovery facility on Tiffin Street in Barrie this summer. It will also include six beds for transitional housing.

Cornerstone’s mission, according to its website, is to support those impacted by addiction to achieve emotional, physical and spiritual wellness.

The creation of a new addiction recovery centre couldn’t have come sooner, says Coun. Natalie Harris, who along with being an well-known voice on addiction, has struggled with her own issues for several years.

“The city of Barrie has been facing a massive public health crisis for years. We still (have) one of the largest opioid death rates for a city of our size in the province and we obviously have a massive crisis here,” she says.

Unfortunately, it is just the tip of the iceberg to a much larger issue, Harris says. 

“We are battling so many overlapping and concurrent issues with respect to mental illness, especially now with COVID-19 and the financial restraints that have been put on businesses and families," she says. "We really can’t have enough of these facilities in our city.”

Harris has battled addiction for many years, but says it truly came to a head in 2014 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder while working as a paramedic. She counts herself as one of the lucky few who was able to afford to get treatment.

“It saved my life, but I am one of the lucky ones because I had insurance. It was a very expensive program and that’s just not an option for everyone," she says. 

Harris is still very active in the recovery world, participating regularly in 12-step meetings and has gotten to know many women, many with families or who are single mothers, who struggle with getting the help they need locally. Cornerstone, she says, will serve as a much welcomed local resource in Barrie.

“There are different complications to recovery when you are a woman, that’s just the way it is. Most of the time, women are the caregivers to their children and they need to stay close to where they live,” she says.

Having to leave home for treatment is often a deterrent to many women.

“The thought is, they can’t go to Guelph or Toronto, even if they had the money, because they need to stay in their community. It’s just not possible for them to move away," she says. 

There are very few treatment facilities available in the province for women only, says Peter Brewitt, director of programs and development at Cornerstone, adding the format his organization offers is easily adaptable to a women’s facility and will fill a much-needed void not only in Ontario, but in Barrie.

"We have had nothing but accolades about the idea of having a residential facility just for women, and for the idea of creating it in Barrie," he says. "We are a registered non-profit, so the fact that it’s not going to cost thousands of dollars for someone to get treatment was also appealing to people up here."

Cornerstone is not your traditional treatment facility, Brewitt says.

"We don’t call ourselves a treatment centre. We are a treatment community. Traditional treatment centres have a beginning, a middle and an end. You graduate and away you go," he says. "What we have created is a community program (and) bringing the community spirit is going to be really exciting, especially for up there as there aren’t really that many resources available for women.

"Coming up and bringing the community spirit to Barrie is something I really look forward to. I live in Barrie, so I see it first-hand what it’s like. I know the weaknesses in the system," Brewitt adds. 

Cornerstone makes treatment more accessible, no matter what your financial situation is, Harris says.

“They work with the kind of funding you’re able to bring to the table, and also require a much lower upfront cost than other treatment centres that I am aware of. If you can’t afford it and you qualify for the program, you won't be turned away," says the Ward 6 councillor. 

The organization raises money through a textile collection program, which has been successfully running in York Region for nearly 20 years. 

“We are diverting waste from the landfill, which is saving taxpayers money and making a positive impact on the environment. It is also bringing an option (for treatment) that not many people have due to cost to our community,” Harris says. “I feel like everyone should have the opportunity I had and that’s what we are working toward.”

What stood out about Cornerstone, says Harris, was not only does the organization provide a 90-day inpatient treatment program, they also offer day programs to help clients maintain their recovery in the long-term.

“Recovery is a life-long process. Cornerstone is all about creating community and that was how we decided it was the model we wanted to introduce to the city. It includes gatherings, assistance for returning to work, a recreation centre, yoga classes, resume-building training and lots of other things that are proven to help prolong recovery that you’ve learned while in treatment,” she says.

“If you just leave and the resources aren’t there to stay in the recovery community your likelihood of relapse is extremely high.”