Winnipeg woman says she developed addiction to meth in sober housing

Stephanie Siddle says the first time she tried crack cocaine was while living in a drug-free apartment run by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.

“Everyone was using. There was not a single person who didn’t,” said Siddle, 32, who was a tenant at River Point Apartments.

She said instead of being kept safe and sober in the abstinence-based housing, she was exposed to methamphetamine and tried it for the first time.

Now she’s lost faith in the system because that’s where she developed an addiction that’s destroying her life, she said. 

“I hate the drug,” she said. “But I keep using just to not be sick. It was fun in the beginning, and now it just seems like work.”

Siddle uses meth every few weeks or whenever she has money, and has been for two years.

In January 2016, Siddle moved into the abstinence-based transitional housing on Magnus Avenue. The 30-suite apartment building is owned by Manitoba Housing and run by the AFM and a non-profit organization, SAM Management.

The building is attached to AFM’s River Point Centre, which offers drug treatment to as many as 2,000 people a year.

Everyone was using. There was not a single person who didn’t.– Stephanie Siddle on life at River Point Apartments

Siddle was referred as a tenant by the Behavioural Health Foundation after she completed a six-month residential treatment for mental health issues and alcohol and pill use.

She was one of the first people to sign a lease at the facility, and it wasn’t long before a drug dealer moved in, she said.

She failed mandatory drug testing, which was part of the lease agreement, and entered detox for five days, she said. She was evicted after failing a second drug test.

“I was angry and upset and I didn’t know what I was going to do and I felt disappointment,” she said. “It just made me want to use more.”

River Point Centre on Magnus Avenue opened to tenants in 2016. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The AFM would not comment on Siddle’s tenancy specifically.

“I wouldn’t ever debate somebody’s perspective or perception,” said Laura Goossen, the director of River Point Centre.

“I’m not sure everybody would have been in the situation she’s describing, but I wouldn’t question that there were people like her who were really struggling.”

Goossen said tenants agree to random drug testing when signing their lease. However, she said, there isn’t a zero- tolerance policy because relapse is often part of the recovery process.

“One of the things the staff talk to them about is just strongly encouraging them to say, ‘Hey, slips are part of recovery. Please let us know and our role is to help you get back on track if that’s what you’d like to do,'” Goossen said.

If tenants at River Point Apartments are not committed to their recovery plan they could be evicted, she said. Other reasons for eviction include failure to pay rent and engaging in behaviours that put other tenants in danger — dealing drugs, for example.

The highest rate of evictions happened in the first year, she said.

Changes made

The AFM only filled half the suites in the first year as a test run for the new facility, Goossen said.

However, there was a learning curve and changes had to be made.

“One was we asked government, Manitoba Health, for additional funding for additional staffing, and that was approved in the fall of 2016,” she said. “The second change was our screening criteria.”

Laura Goossen, director of River Point Centre, says major changes have been made at the apartment since it opened in 2016. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The AFM now has two full-time staff, both with addictions backgrounds, at the apartment six days a week. One is the case manager, who works with tenants on their recovery plans. The other is the community integration co-ordinator, who helps tenants with life skills and re-entering society.

As for screening, Goossen said applications are reviewed by a selection committee that considers things like the applicant’s experience in treatment and the kind of community supports they have.

“Potential tenant needs to be able to manage independent living, because ultimately that is what this is,” Goossen said. 

Siddle believes she would not have become addicted to meth had she moved into a regular apartment instead of the sober-living facility.

“Since we all knew that we were all drug addicts … [we] just kind of fed off each other,” she said. “It failed. It failed miserably.”

No hope

Now Siddle is living in an apartment in an area full of meth addicts. Her mother pleads with her on a regular basis to move home or to give treatment another shot.

“I bring her food all the time to make sure she’s eating and make sure she can maintain her whopping 75 pounds or whatever it is.… It’s hard, it’s really hard,” said Corinne Siddle.

She doesn’t know what else to do for her daughter. 

Stephanie was full of hope when she finished treatment in 2015 and moved into River Point Apartments, her mother said. She was looking forward to putting her psychology degree to use and finding a job.

Potential tenant needs to be able to manage independent living, because ultimately that is what this is.–  Laura  Goossen , the director of River Point Centre

Instead, she said, they saw a year of decline that has turned into two years of meth use. 

“We’re not looking very hopeful at all, and I’m not seeing a lot of hope to get off the meth,” the mother said. “At this point, she’s just so frustrated and so upset with the system. She doesn’t feel there’s help.”

Siddle said she wants to quit, but doesn’t see a future for herself.

“Who am I supposed to become. Like, I’m not that Stephanie from two years ago. Like, I was, ‘Don’t feel like her anymore,'” she said. “I just feel scared to just live a normal life again … I just can’t seem to figure it out.”

Goossen said she’s heard from many drug users who have described this kind of hopelessness and are now far along their recovery paths.

“I would just really, really encourage her, and any family members … to seek support for themselves because that is a really tough place to be,” she said.

There is currently a more than 200-day waiting list for women wanting to get into drug treatment.

Walk-in assessments are available at rapid access to addictions medicine (RAAM) clinics, which were announced in May, Goossen said.

“For somebody like that, who’s feeling like I am not sure how motivated I am — and it sounds like she is really questioning that — sometimes a walk-in and not waiting for an appointment is the way to go,” she said.