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Kamloops man designs innovative, award-winning housing model for addiction recovery

Trevor Starchuk is a social work student at Thompson Rivers University.
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A Kamloops man has designed a housing model geared at increasing the success rates of drug addiction recovery and lowering homelessness, and he’ll be presenting it at a national academic conference in Montreal next month.

Trevor Starchuk, a student at Thompson Rivers University, is working on a degree in social work. He also spent decades of his life living with a drug addiction.

“My research uses a combination of lived experience and academics,” Starchuk said. “My journey with addiction was long, and I want to help others on their journey.”

He spent the past five years researching substance use disorders and care systems, pouring over coroners' reports and surveying people with drug addictions.

He developed a model of housing that is an inclusive healing community built in one location. The substance user would be safely housed and supported through five phases of recovery, from harm reduction, to detox, intensive treatment, supported recovery and ultimately social housing.

“My research shows a 79.4% reduction in homelessness in my model as opposed to current systems of care,” Starchuk said. “I’m big on evidence and numbers. There isn’t a grey area with numbers.”

Residents would remain living in the community, even if they relapse. They move up and down phases of care based on behaviours and abstinence readiness, giving them time to heal.

“Everything is treated as a learning opportunity. People need a long time to heal. Each time they cycle through the phases, they pick up life skills and tools to deal with whatever is causing relapse. A lot of using drugs is a result of trauma, it’s a trauma crisis and people need to work around trauma triggers and gain life skills.”

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Starchuk’s research findings show the current abstinence-based programs are too short and have a high rate of relapse with clients ending up back on the street.

His data shows his inclusive community model would hugely decrease homelessness by keeping people in a safe community where they could continue to learn and grow.

For clients who don’t want to progress, there is value in keeping them supported in a safe environment as it prevents them from committing crimes and causing problems on the streets.

“I want to incorporate safe supply into my model where clients can have their safe supply dose under the watchful eye of the nurses and staff,” Starchuk said. “I agree with safe supply in a controlled environment.”

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The success of the inclusive healing community model relies on the interweaving of current systems of care into one. Starchuk said systems of care such as harm reduction service, detox and supportive recovery are operating in isolation of one another, leaving gaps in services.

His numbers show a huge percentage of people returning to homelessness after accessing systems of care.

“This represents what we’re seeing on the street, they’re not being adequately supported, we’re not taking into account the risks of relapse.”

Part of Starchuk’s research was looking into the costs and economic benefits of the inclusive healing community.

“We’re short on treatment beds in the province, it would cost billions of dollars per year to fund a bed for everyone who needs one and provide staff, it’s not affordable, and with the low success rates of treatments, very few of those clients would still be abstinent in a year.”

Social agencies each have an executive director and staff, but with one inclusive healing model there would be only be one executive and one set of staff, greatly reducing the amount of funding required.

“The majority of funding going into current systems of care is mainly for administration and buildings, not the clients.”

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The City of Kamloops is working on developing a hub where homeless people can access shelter, get meals and health services, and connections to housing. Starchuk said his model could work and plans to get his inclusive community model built in the city.

He's currently working on building capacity and getting funding.

“To build this community will take a lot of money,” he said. “You have to grow capacity before BC Housing looks at it, and be recognized as an organization that has the capacity to do this.”

He would need the Interior Health Authority and the First Nations Health Authority to provide the health-care services and BC Housing to provide the funding to build it.

“We also need to have experience managing housing, we’re going to have to partner with another organization with housing experience to strengthen the proposal for funding.”

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Starchuk is the founder of Loud Voice Society, a collective of community professionals working to address the harms associated with substance use and homelessness that includes professors, health clinicians and substance-use councillors.

He recently received an outstanding student proposal award through The Canadian Association for Social Work Education, and was invited to present his proposal and research findings at the Congress 2024 conference at McGill University next month, the country’s largest annual academic gathering hosted by the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences.

“This is an honour, I was surprised to get this opportunity, but it isn’t all about me. It’s going to take a whole community working together on the same page to make a change. We have to innovate, we have to do better, our current systems are failing.” 

—This article was corrected at 9:28 a.m. on Friday, May 17, 2024 to say the subject did not live on the streets. 

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