Don Lehn, president of the Alano Club, says the clubhouse needs many repairs, including a new hot water tank. They are appealing to the community for help. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Chilliwack’s safe haven for recovering alcohol and drug addicts in jeopardy

Chilliwack Alano Club needs financial support to carry on supporting others

A Chilliwack group that runs a drug and alcohol clubhouse is facing the reality it may soon have to close its doors.

The Alano Club exists within the walls of a heritage home on Victoria Avenue. Tucked away from the street under tall trees between a pawn shop and an empty retail building, it may not even catch the casual traveller’s eye. And its location puts it right in the epicentre of the homeless, opioid and alcohol addiction issues that plague this city.

But the club and its house are not part of those problems, stresses Alano Club vice-president Don Lehn.

That’s been a tough message to get out into the community. He says even though the Alano Club has a history in Chilliwack that dates back at least to the 1950s, many people hold the belief that the club is filled with ne’er-do-wells. In fact, Lehn says, the members are people like him, who are striving to make themselves and their community a better place.

Lehn’s been working at increasing awareness of the good work that the club does, and its vital importance to its members. Now, as their funding is in danger and the building is falling into disrepair, his message has a sense of urgency like never before.

“We were audited a couple of months ago,” he explains, due to clerical errors. They did all the paperwork, dating back several years and resubmitted it. They’ve since found out that a number of recovery clubs are under similar review, and just in the last week, the Victoria Alano Club has had to close.

The reason is, they cannot apply for the usual gaming grant that would keep them afloat.

“That is a good chunk of our operating budget,” Lehn says. Kamloops and Abbotsford clubs are in a similar tight spot.

“We’re oddballs in that we actually own our building,” he says. “But Hydro bills are still Hydro bills. We need a roof inspection. We need insulation in the attic.”

And the list goes on.

“We’ve got a 40-year-old water tank that has to go. We need energy efficient flushing toilets,” he adds.

The building needs the repairs yesterday, he says, and without their usual funds they can’t even pay their usual bills.

So, they’re appealing to the community through a GoFundMe account, but the dollars are literally trickling in. So far, the fundraiser has brought in less than $200.

To lose the Alano Club would be devastating to those who find comfort within its walls. There are recovery meetings all over town, Lehn says, but nowhere provides multiple meetings a day like the Alano Club. And as an added benefit for the non-religious, the club is not associated with the 12 Step Program.

It’s also the meeting place for Co-Dependants Anonymous, Alanon and even acts as a safe haven for separated parents to meet for child drop-offs and pick-ups.

It’s not a place for active drug users or those who are currently drinking, Lehn says. And that’s the thing people don’t seem to understand. For Lehn, having a place to go has meant the difference between falling back into old habits, or moving forward.

“Next month is 23 years for me,” he says. “You still want a place that is safe and for like-minded people to hang out.”

And for a recovering addict or alcoholic, knowing there’s a place to go and be surrounded with people who understand can mean life or death.

“You need it more than ever when you get up around my age,” Lehn says. “It’s not just the drinking and drugging, it’s that a lot of people don’t understand the disease. It’s a physical allergy and mental obsession.”

Addiction has been proven over and over again to be a disease, including by the World Health Organization, he adds.

“I can be cool, calm and collected on the outside and sick and twisted on the inside,” he confides. “But at the Alano Club, I’m with my kind, I can look around and say ‘you get me.’”

Conversely, he says, they welcome in young newcomers who are looking to change their lifestyle. And even though the clubhouse itself is a safe haven, they cannot ignore the pain and suffering of those in the streets around them. Lehn keeps a naloxone kit on him and in his apartment (which overlooks the clubhouse) at all times.

“I’ve had to throw kits down from my balcony more than once,” he says, and everyone in the area knows how to administer a dose of naloxone. He has seen a homeless man lit on fire, has seen overdoses up close, and watched as addicts fall deeper and deeper into that hole.

The Alano Club is there for those wanting out of the hole. And surprisingly, many of the recovering addicts are living on the streets and managing to stay clean. Lehn estimates up to 30 people who are on Chilliwack’s streets are sober, and many of them come in for meetings either regularly or sporadically.

“I don’t know how they do it,” he says. “They are clean and sober on the street, 25 to 30 of them. It’s amazing.”

They also do a lot of outreach, and see themselves a connection in the overall story of sobriety in Chilliwack. They do in-home and in-hospital visits, regularly send youth off to Cyrus Centre, and refer people to the shelters in town when they need a place to stay.

But the Alano Club is not a recovery centre. There are no overnight bed stays. They don’t provide free meals. And they’re not a church. And that keeps them from receiving any sort of benefits that other organizations get, whether it’s grants or tax reductions.

And because they charge for lunches, they can’t have a CRA number. Without that number, they can’t provide tax receipts.

But they’re still hoping there are enough people out there who care to help them continue what they’re doing for the community. They’ll be working on spreading awareness about the program at Party in the Park, where they will have a tent. And they’ve had some support from friends with Rotary connections, Lehn says.

And Lehn has been promoting the club through his own media connections. He runs Fraser Valley News, and has a connection to ChillTV, an online news show.

“It’s all about getting the word out,” he said. “We’re hoping we’re still open later this year.”

His big dream is to renovation superstar Mike Holmes come out and help get the house into tip-top shape, so the club and its members can get back to focusing on recovery.

“I’m a huge fan,” Lehn says. “We’d love to have Mike come and fix everything for us.”

But in the meantime, check out the GOFUNDME under Chilliwack BC Alano Club Survival, or visit them on Facebook to learn more about their programs.


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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Don Lehn, president of the Alano Club, says the clubhouse needs many repairs, including new plumbing. They are appealing to the community for help. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

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