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Terrance Sim’s Story:

With a little support, transitions are possible

Reprinted with permission from Four Pillars News Feb 2009

Terrence SimWhen people walk, cycle, push their wheelchair or jog down the sidewalk in Vancouver, they don’t trip over broken sidewalks. That’s thanks to the work by people like Terrance Sim, who works for the City adding fillets – asphalt used to level off cracks or heaved cement – to the sidewalks.

“I look at my job as making the city a smooth transition,” Sim said. In fact, through the Supported Employment Program, the City has helped Sim make a transition in his life, away from his experience as somebody who was homeless, drank alcohol to excess and was caught in a cycle of using and selling drugs. Now Sim, who is 28, holds a job with the City, has his own apartment, owns his first computer, enjoys his own cable television, has learned to cook for himself, and attends supportive meetings to help him stay away from using substances.
“I’ve never had my own place,” he said. “I’ve never been able to eat when I wanted.”

Sim was born in Edmonton but was taken from his family when he was about five. “I pretty much bounced around foster homes until 14 or 15,” he said. He started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana in Grade 8. “Then I just decided to live on the streets and sold drugs.”

The lifestyle was lucrative. “I made a lot of money but I didn’t know what to do with it. Then a friend introduced me to crystal meth and then I knew what to do with it.

Saying he doesn’t remember much about the next 10 years, Sim says he dropped out of school in Grade 10, spent some time in jail and wandered from Edmonton to Calgary, Toronto, Victoria and Vancouver. He regularly picked up work through government jobs aimed at street youth. “Basically, they provide a job and a paycheck for kids daily.” He also entered detox “too many times to count” and attempted treatment numerous times without success.

In his final, chaotic year of substance use, Sim left the carnival circuit he’d been working, and stopped using crystal meth but continued to smoke crack and drink to excess. He tried a few treatment centres but couldn’t stay in any of the programs. He finally wound up on Saltspring Island, working as a roofer. He lived in a tent and while there were no drugs available, he drank alcohol.

Finally, after a long drinking party celebrating a friend’s birthday, he woke up, looked at himself in a mirror and thought, “This is not cool”. He left Saltspring, travelled to Vancouver and asked to enter Harbour Light to detox and enter treatment. He said he just knew it was his time to get clean, that finally, all the bits of information he’d picked up over the years in treatment programs had started to make sense.

Unfortunately, he still had another hurdle. Harbour Light asked if he’d been drinking and when he said yes, he was told to stay away from alcohol for one week; if he could do that, he could enter Harbour Light.

Sim spent the week in the Downtown Eastside, abstaining from alcohol and really looking at people he saw on the street. For the first time, he said, he saw the consequences of his substance use. “I was walking around and thought, ‘that’s going to be me in 20 years’.”

Terence photoSim entered the Harbour Light detox program, got into a dorm and, eventually, his own room at Harbour Light. That’s when an EMBERS Staffing Solutions counselor came looking for him, offering him the opportunity to gain work experience through the Four Pillars Supported Employment Program which is organized by the City’s Drug Policy Program (DPP) and funded through the Vancouver Agreement. (EMBERS is a social purpose temporary staffing agency that recruits the program’s participants and provides them with job support.)

The program, which offers short-term City employment to people who are in recovery from addiction, started as a pilot in 2007 giving four men the opportunity to work on short-term jobs with the City. The 2008 phase offered work to seven, including Sim. The DPP will offer a slightly expanded version of the program in 2008.

Towards the end of the six-month program, two jobs in Street Operations arose unexpectedly; Sim was offered one of them (with the same probationary period required of any new City employee) and has worked in the position now for more than a year.

“I love my job,” Sim said. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can.” He also loves having his own basement suite, owning a computer and a television, and cooking when he likes.

He has a sense of well-being now, he said, and feels calm and serene. “What’s made the difference is what I’ve decided to do with my life,” he said. “I don’t want that (drug-using life) anymore. I just really don’t want to be in that lifestyle,” he said. “Everything that has happened in the last year has been just amazingly crazy.”

The Vancouver Agreement funded the Four Pillars Employment Pilot Project in 2007 and a continuation of the program in 2008-2009.

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