'I want to help save lives': Man who wants to treat addictions in his home appeals for neighbours' support

A man proposing to turn his Windsor Park home into a centre for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts told a packed public meeting that living in a welcoming community while undergoing treatment was pivotal to his own recovery.

Windsor Park residents pack community hall to hear details of proposed private care centre

Vedran Cankovic, who overcame his own drug addiction, is proposing to use his property in Windsor Park as an addictions treatment facility. (CBC)

A man proposing to turn his Windsor Park home into a treatment centre for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts described his own life-changing experiences in residential treatment as he appealed to his neighbours — some supportive and some opposed to the proposal.

"I got sober in a residential treatment area that was located between two houses, across from a green space," Vedran Cankovic said at a crowded public engagement session Wednesday evening.

"They allowed me to integrate with the community … basically that was a pillar of my recovery."

More than 100 people turned out for the meeting at the Windsor Community Hall.

Cankovic's proposed facility attracted attention earlier this week after someone distributed flyers in the neighbourhood calling recovering addicts and alcoholics "potentially dangerous" and bad for property values.

A woman whose partner died of a fentanyl overdose penned an open letter on Facebook to the anonymous writer of the flyer, ending with an invitation to meet the unknown person for coffee.  

Personal experiences shared

"I'm here to end the stigma of addiction and I'm here to show people and tell people that the fears that they're relating in their minds are false, and I want to help save lives and be there for people that are still suffering in addiction in silence," Cankovic said.

Cankovic's public engagement session drew a big crowd of local residents, some skeptical and others supportive of his plan. (CBC)

He told those gathered about his experience growing up in Bosnia, fleeing when war broke out, and arriving in Canada as a young boy.  

"I began using drugs at an early age of 14. This progressed as time went on until I finally found opiates and that they filled the void that I as a boy had. My addiction took hold of me, I lost connection with everything and everyone around me," he said.

Cankovic said he travelled to Serbia at age 20 in hopes a change in location would stop his drug use. Instead, his disease progressed. He said he willingly attended a rehab facility in Serbia, but soon left after discovering abuses at the facility.

Cankovic returned to Canada and eventually found success at a residential treatment centre in Comox, B.C., where he said he was integrated into the local community and welcomed with open arms.  

Neighbours divided

Area resident Cheryl Carbol supports Cankovi's proposal for the Windsor Park house. "We have to have more outlets for these people," she said.

"These are people who want help. Addiction now, unless you've been touched by it, you don't know."

But Dennis Petrunia said there are already plenty of options open to addicts and there is no need to open a treatment centre in a residential neighbourhood.

Connie Tidy, who also lives in the area and received the flyer against the facility in her mailbox, said she came to the meeting with an open mind.

"I want to gather the facts, understand the situation, and make a decision if I oppose or disapprove of the proposal," she said prior to the engagement session.

'It could be anyone'

Cankovic said he thinks some neighbours are scared and angry because of the stigma related to addiction.

"Their concerns are based on fear and that the typical addict is someone in an alley shooting up. It could be your neighbour, your brother, your sister, it could be anyone," he said. A lot of Cankovic's friends have died from fentanyl, he said.

While those opposed feel the centre will bring potentially dangerous people into the community, Cankovic has different worries.

"My concern is that there's a risk for my residents in my facility that the community won't welcome them and they'll be shunned back into that shame and guilt that they lived in for so long," he said.