Portage teens enjoy bittersweet graduation

Stéphanie Alcaraz-Robinson
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Grad ceremony could be the last one if Portage doesn't find a new home

18-year-old Liam graduated on June 17 at Portage Beaconsfield. Liam, who asked not to have his family name published, first smoked pot when he was 12 and graduated to harder drugs by the age of 17 – cocaine, speed, ecstasy and stolen painkillers – and ended up selling them to get cash. "I would have ended up dead or in jail," he admitted when asked what his life would resemble without the help of Portage.

The young man couldn't imagine his life without drugs, but after four months in the program, his life isn't hanging in the balance anymore. "My life wasn't going anywhere; I had been kicked out of three schools in three years." He remembers not being able to communicate with his family without it ending it screams and wasn't able to hold down a job, even less a relationship. "When you keep pushing people away, they end up leaving."

Portage Beaconsfield gave Liam tools to deal with the pain and emotions, and gave him the best gift of all: self-love. Before Portage, he could not remember the last time he was proud of himself. "I can genuinely say that I am proud of myself now." He started taking an interest in sports – rugby being his favourite – as well as music, from Sinatra to Lamb of God. He will be enrolling in CEGEP next year and will be trying to get his life back together, and do the things he missed out on while abusing drugs.

When Portage Beaconsfield first moved to the Elm Street campus in 2001, they knew that they would have to eventually find a new place to call home. With Batshaw Youth and Family Centres finally claiming the building back – it wants a place to house West Island kids in their own community – the future seems gloomy for staffers and clients alike.

Portage has until the end of December to pack their bags – or drop dead. "This is an important center, a unique center for anglophones," said Portage communications director Seychelle Harding. They are the only English spoken residential drug rehab centre in Quebec. Since 2001, more than 900 kids have come in and out of the centre.

Portage has teamed up with Lester B. Pearson school board in order to help teenagers to graduate – all whilst pursuing therapy. "A lot of them would have never finished if this wasn't offered here," stated Harding. She argues that it helps them open up doors in life – like going to college or ending a better job. "We have nurses that have graduated here, a lot wish to be social workers, or help other," she said.

"Our program is in an uncertain state – if we don't have anywhere to go, we will have to stop our services," Harding said. And teenagers have nowhere to go – besides more short-term resources that are offered by the public system, although studies show that the longer they are in therapy, the better the chances of them to get through the addiction.

A nightmare unfolding trying to find land

Portage has been relentlessly trying to find a building – or a lot to build on – for the past five years. "It's very hard, because we have special needs, like gender-associated rooms, a cafeteria, etc." An undisclosed site could have been found, but it would need a lot of renovations. "We are a non-profit and 85 per cent of our funding comes from the government," Harding said. With renovations to do, they could not be up and running before December. If the cannot find a way, Portage might just close down for good.

Portage has met with Quebec Minister of Minister for Rehabilitation, Youth Protection and Public Health Lucie Charlebois in hopes to find most sought solace and support – with no concrete answer yet. "We understand they are doing the best they can. It's a new government and spending must be cut. But we deeply need the help, " Hrading said. Alexandra Bernier, a spokesperson for Charlebois said the government is open and ready to work in finding a way, without, however, having an answer.

Portage administration is still hopeful.

"Society in general would not profit from this," worried Harding.


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Organizations: Family Centres, Public Health Lucie Charlebois

Geographic location: CEGEP, Elm Street, West Island Quebec

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