To the untrained eye, the Our House addiction recovery facility looks like the average roadside motel. Nestled on a service road along a stretch of industrial businesses and motels, just shy of Edmonton’s city limits, Our House is an unassuming space. But for those who call Our House home, the 60-bed, all-male residential treatment facility is a haven—a safe space where they’re able to find the camaraderie and support they need to get their lives back on track.
“These are guys who have burned their lives to the ground, and we want to be able to offer them as much care and as much guidance as we can,” says Mark MacKenzie, former executive director. “What we really aim to do here is create a better world that is addiction free.”
Clients at Our House have reached the end of their road, battling drug or alcohol addiction. In order to make the move to Our House, they must be referred and must have attended a short-term treatment facility within the last two years. The referral can come from anyone—be it a doctor, lawyer, psychologist, or anyone familiar with the client’s case.
Still, MacKenzie notes there are no hard and fast rules around admission—Our House aims to help anyone ready to make the journey to recovery.
“Since I’ve been here, no one gets turned away. We need to reach the entire community on as large of a scale as we possibly can if we’re going to make a difference,” he says. “So even if we might not have room at one time, we try to work with other groups to get people the kinds of support they need.”
MacKenzie is immensely proud of the progress Our House has made over the past few years. He’s even more proud of the successes of the many men who have graduated from its year-long residential recovery program over the years. While the reported graduation rate of the program hovers around 20%, MacKenzie is quick to explain that this number doesn’t account for clients who may not need the full year of treatment and leave the program early. In response, Our House is currently looking at ways to offer programming tailored to each client’s unique needs.
“Someone after six months might have what they need out of what we offer and might be ready to integrate back into the community. In other cases, someone might need 18 months with us,” he says. “Either way, we believe by becoming more individualized, we can be closer to an 80% graduation rate.”
Our House wasn’t always located on this unassuming service road on the outskirts of town. Its history dates back to 1984, when parish members of a downtown church opened a drop-in centre to support community members struggling with addiction. By the early 2000s, services had expanded and the group purchased the old Alamo Motel on Stony Plain Road, with hopes of turning it into a residential treatment facility. At the time, they did a major overhaul to make the space usable for their programs.
In time, however, more work needed to be done. When MacKenzie stepped into the role of executive director, things were grim. The original kitchen and dining room were in dire need of repairs, but arrangements hadn’t yet been made to renovate the mold-infested facilities. MacKenzie, who has a background in the construction industry, wasted no time getting to work.
“We were about four months from closing our doors at that point,” he says. “We knew the renovations had to happen, and we started by renting a mobile kitchen while ours was closed for repairs, which was costing us $17,000 a month to rent. Beyond that, we had nothing lined up.”
With the help of SEF, Our House completed the kitchen and dining room repairs within just a few months. But MacKenzie didn’t stop there. His background in business gave him an eye for opportunity, and since 2018 he has upgraded other parts of the facility, installing concrete paths, revamping office and treatment rooms, and renovating accommodation spaces. When possible, he tries to have the men in treatment help with repairs and renovations, as a way of gaining work experience and getting used to activity again.
Up next on the continuous list of upgrades is the replacement of the facility’s septic system. With 60 residents on site at any given time, the system requires constant attention. Every 36 hours, the tank needs to be drained, at a cost of $110,000 annually. If Our House was connected to the city’s sewer and drainage network, the costs would be nearly 1/10th as much. Work is underway to replace the system now, but in talking to MacKenzie, it’s clear that he’s not done yet.
“My belief is that if you’re personally invested in what you’re doing, you’re going to believe in it, which is going to make you work harder to achieve it,” he says. “Everyone at Our House is invested in it. We realize the value of what we’re doing here, and we’re going to keep making it better.”