United Way helps Umbrella Society build a foundation to tackle addictions

Since 2007, United Way has allocated over $1 million to Umbrella Society for Addictions and Mental Health. One of the programs United Way has supported is Foundation House, a recovery house.

Erik is one of the people who has been helped by Foundation House.

When Erik was 17, he lost his father to cancer. He turned to alcohol to cope.

“I’ve been a hard alcoholic since I was about 21. I always just lived with my problems. I never got help.”

Over the past decade, he’s been through several detox and treatment centres and also served time in jail. He fought to stay sober but as soon as he was out on the streets, he would drink and use right away. What he found out is that addiction is a lonely place.

A few years ago, Erik entered detox again. A worker from Umbrella Society for Addictions and Mental Health was there to work with him and offer support. He told Erik about Foundation House, a recovery house managed by Umbrella Society and funded by United Way, and how it could change his life.

“I was like a zombie. Constantly sick. I just got so hopeless. I was so sick of being sick.”

Erik moved into the recovery house in 2018. He just celebrated one year of sobriety. He has a full-time job. He just bought a car. His confidence is growing.

“I don’t know where I’d be if not for here,” says Erik. “I’m not saying it’s easy. Every day is a battle trying to stay sober but in the long run it’s better than being homeless and not having a life.”

United Way has supported Umbrella every step of the way as the society has grown in scope from counselling to housing. In November, Umbrella Society’s Foundation House was recognized as the Housing Provider of the Year from the BC Non-Profit Housing Society. The Award recognizes an innovative non-profit housing provider that responds to an environmental, operational or community challenge.

“Thanks to the long-standing support and sustainable funding from United Way – we have been able to evolve our organization from initially dealing with addictions and mental health counselling to providing housing programs,” explains Sharlene Law, Executive Director, Umbrella Society for Addictions and Mental Health. “This continuum of services has allowed our team to help individuals and families deal with the different stages of recovery.”

“Long-term change takes time. Individuals’ needs are varied and can be complex,” said Mark Breslauer, CEO, United Way Greater Victoria. “United Way makes informed community investments to tackle #UNIGNORABLE issues like addiction. We assume a lead role in helping drive positive community change.”

United Way not only responds to long-term issues, but to emerging issues as well. In response to the opioid crisis, this spring United Way recently funded a six-part “Understanding Addictions” course that is being offered by Umbrella Society. The last time the course was offered in the fall of 2018, there was a wait list of 21 people. United Way’s funding helped address this need and allowed even more to attend.

Back to Erik. His top priority has shifted from one of chasing the next drink to that of continuous improvement. “This house helps people turn their lives around and break the cycle of addiction. It’s done miracles for me.”

Quick Facts

Addiction can be hard to talk about and even harder to face when you or someone you love is affected by it. Whether it be harmful drinking habits, excessive recreational drug use, or opioid dependency, the effects can be devastating. Family disruption, violence, mental health issues, physical illness and overdose, loss of income, and even crime can result from a substance addiction.

  • Alcohol consumption is on the rise on Vancouver Island and hospitalizations as a direct result of alcohol consumption have increased 35% since 2002.
  • The rate of overdose deaths in Victoria has tripled since 2008.
  • There were more than 4.5 times as many illicit drug overdose deaths as motor vehicle accident deaths in 2018.

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For more information, please contact:

Heather Skydt, Director of Marketing & Communications
United Way Greater Victoria
250-984-2269, heather.skydt@uwgv.ca

Sharlene Law, Executive Director
Umbrella Society for Addictions & Mental Health
250-589-3119, sharlene@umbrellasociety.ca


United Way ‘unites’ the generosity of people – business, labour, government and individual donors – with the skills, knowledge and expertise in the community to help ensure those in need reach their full potential. This collaborative approach is building a stronger, more resilient community to serve current and future generations.

As one of the region’s largest annual funders of local social service programs, we assist charitable organizations by identifying and funding programs to address immediate needs and underlying causes of our community’s most #UNIGNORABLE social challenges.

United Way is a year round fundraiser and community builder, and provides multi-year funding to create a strong and stable network of local services. For 82 years we have served the community and raised over $170 Million. Our work, as a community leader, is as relevant today as it ever was.  And with the ongoing support of our donors, we will continue to positively changes lives.