March 7 is a date Michelle Jansen is looking forward to for the first time since her son’s death on that day in 2016.
That celebration centres around the opening of the first of four Brandon Jansen Memorial Recovery Centres, this one in the Lower Mainland.
A second location in Penticton is expected to begin helping clients starting the first week of March followed by ones in Osoyoos and Vernon.
“This is something that Brandon would have to have loved to have seen and loved to have been a part of,” said Jansen, who had scheduled a press conference today (Wednesday) at her Coquitlam office. “After Brandon passed, of the 12 (recovery) centres he attended, there were so many people who contacted me saying, ‘Brandon would sit for hours and talk to me,’ and ‘he would do whatever he could to help me.’
“Brandon couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get over this fentanyl addition. He just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t turn this off.”
Michelle recalled her son telling her just hours before his death at a Powell River rehab centre, “It keeps calling my name.”
That was just two days before his 21st birthday when someone had dropped off some drugs at the centre according to the messages she found on his cell phone she still has.
What Michelle learned at the cost of her son’s life and $200,000, was recovery centres in their current form were not working, specifically with the emergence of the fentanyl crisis.
“I have parents and loved ones reaching out to me every week sometimes a couple times a week saying they’ve lost yet another one,” she said. “We just need to save lives, people continue to die. When I woke up this morning there were two more families who had lost their loved ones overnight.”
Her first attempt at opening a 12-bed facility on Juniper Drive in Penticton, which she announced in November, collapsed around her.
She and her realtor in the pending transaction to purchase the $1.4 million property say it was bought out from under them, reportedly by the four neighbours of the property.
“I’m so surprised that the seller took the risk of jeopardizing our sales contract but what I need the public to know, that there are those who still run with the stigma and the ignorance.”
But she added the ensuing publicity regarding the matter turned out to be a “blessing in disguise” after a number of people, including a Penticton man reached out to help her.
“This really restores my faith in humanity and I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that initial Penticton property wasn’t meant to be,” said Jansen. “It shows that there are a lot of people – more and more as this crisis continues – who are understanding, who have changed their mindset, who truly want to help and that’s awesome.”
She has since met with Premier John Horgan and last week talked to Judy Darcy, Mental Health and Addictions minister.
According to Jansen, the minister was particularly interested in using the Brandon Jansen Memorial Recovery Centre as a template for future governance of such facilities, something Jansen believes is sadly lacking at present.
“Had there been the proper regulations in place like the ones I will have in Penticton, 1,000 per cent Brandon would still be alive,” she said previously.
Her new facilities will be six-bed treatment centres.
“We offer a very customized form of treatment, we don’t have a one size fits all,” she said. “You can’t have facility that have 40 clients and have them in there for 30, 60 or 90 days and confidently say, they’re going to be in a good state of recovery when the leave, what’s that? It’s a rooming house.”
She added the treatment options she will provide are based on the latest clinical research, in particular the fact fentanyl addiction is an “physiological brain disease” requiring modifying care practices.
“For me, what opening these centres is, is an opportunity to save more lives,” said Jansen. “And you know what? That was the path we were meant to be on, for Brandon’s sake.”
Penticton man steps in to help with recovery centre
Compassion for a mother who lost her son to a drug overdose was not the only reason a Penticton man offered his home for her to use as a treatment centre.
John, who asked his real name not be used to protect the privacy of the house location, said it was more the opposition Michelle Jansen faced when she tried to buy a Juniper Drive house for that purpose late last year.
“That response (from neighbours) probably shocked Michelle and it shocked me too, and I think that’s what motivated me to make to the call to her,” said John, whose family moved from the west side property a month ago to facilitate the centre. “This ‘not in my backyard’ is not a good enough reason. That really doesn’t carry a lot of weight compared to what these people are trying to do.
“When I heard what happened, I just thought that’s unacceptable. Yes there’s stigma and that they really just needed somebody to open a door.”
He has not told all of his neighbours about the decision and doesn’t think they will notice much of a difference.
“Let’s put it on the scoreboard first and then argue the merits. You can’t argue the merits because of the address, that’s not good enough,” he said.
As it turned out John’s offer was not the only one Jansen received and as a result similar centres are planned for the near future in Osoyoos and Vernon.
“What it (Juniper Drive property) allowed for was a teachable moment for the public in regards to stigma,” said Jansen. “Secondly there were a lot of property owners who reached out to me saying that was terrible what they (opponents) did. This has really been a blessing.”
Leasing the property from John has also left her with the necessary capital to invest in more centres.
“I decided on Vernon and Osoyoos because, like Penticton, they are outside the big city so there’s more serenity, more tranquility,” she said.
For his part, John, who has two children of his own, can empathize with Jansen’s heart-breaking loss.
“It’s that ‘there but the grace of God go I,’ and I’m blessed that I haven’t had the experience that Michelle has had to live through’” he said. “I know how important this is to her. This is an opportunity to save someone’s life, even if it’s just one, that’s enough and we know it’s going to have a much bigger impact than that.”