Lennon House founder says opening date uncertain amidst board turnover, funding issues

Nearly two years after she hoped to have the doors open, the founder of Lennon Recovery House now says it's unclear when the facility will be up and running. 

Former board members say government intervention needed to get facility open

The founder says most of this former Catholic spiritual retreat centre in Rustico has been gutted and renovated. Work on the third floor still hasn't been completed. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Nearly two years after she hoped to have the doors open, the founder of Lennon Recovery House now says it's unclear when the not-for-profit facility will be up and running. 

Dianne Young says regular turnover and "disarray" on the volunteer board of directors for Lennon Recovery House Association has slowed progress over the past two years. 

Now, with the third floor of the building still in need of renovations, and no funding commitment from the new provincial government, she said it's tough to predict when the house will be open to Islanders recovering from addictions and mental-health issues. 

Founder Dianne Young says regular turnover on the volunteer board of directors has slowed progress over the past two years. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"We've had support with the previous government. That stopped with this new government, and that's unfortunate," said Young. "I wish we could move faster. I wish we could basically get a big donation, and open the doors."

Young set out to open a recovery home, after her son, Lennon Waterman, took his own life in 2013.  He had struggled with both mental illness and drug addictions for more than a decade before his death.

Dianne Young says the first floor, which includes a large living and dining area, is completed and ready for residents. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Young saw a need on P.E.I. for a home open to Islanders coming out of treatment and transition programs, needing a place to live and help getting back on their feet. 

In the spring of 2017, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown donated a three storey, spiritual retreat centre in Rustico, with capacity to house up to 32 residents. 

Young said since then the association has gutted and fully renovated most of the aging building, inside and out.

According to figures provided by the Lennon House office, to do the work, the association has relied on $288,000 in donations and $177,000 from the province — some of which has helped pay her salary as project manager, along with an administrative assistant's position.  

But Young said at this point, the new government has only committed to funding those salaries until the end of September, and hasn't offered any more money to help with renovations, or future operations. 

'Concerns with the proposed operations'

In a statement to CBC, a spokesperson for the P.E.I. government said it's "aware of some concerns with the proposed operations of Lennon House and recent changes to its board of directors. We are reaching out to the board so that we may continue discussions related to ongoing financial support and technical guidance."

Government said it has also asked for several documents from Lennon House, including updated business and operating plans and financial statements.

The board of directors for Lennon House is currently four people short of a full, eight-director board, following recent resignations. 

CBC has spoken to four former board members who resigned after just months on the board. All of them said they stepped down because of disagreements with Young over how the association was being run, and concerns there wasn't a viable plan to make the recovery home a success. 

Patsy Somers, a former board member, took to social media this week to share her concerns about the Lennon Recovery House. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

One of those former board members, Patsy Somers, shared her concerns publicly on social media this week. Somers served as treasurer, then interim-president last fall. 

"I didn't want to speak up. I felt kind of bad doing it. It's a good cause, a wonderful idea, and a wonderful dream," Somers told CBC.

"But I sat down and I thought for a while and thought 'no, I need to speak my mind in the hopes maybe more people will speak up about the dysfunction.' Quite possibly maybe government needs to step in, appoint a board, and take over. And that will make sure the place is open, and followed through for the people that really do need the services."

Government offered consultant's help 

A government spokesperson said this week it has offered to pay a consultant to "help guide Lennon House as an organization into the future."

Tarah Barwise, who recently resigned as board president after a few months in the position, said that offer came in July during a meeting she and another board member had with government officials. 

Founder and project manager Dianne Young, left, along with administrative assistant Shannon Pluffe, look through the not-for-profit organization's budget and business plan. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Barwise said the board had put in a request to the current government for $1 million in annual funding, to cover the operating costs of the house.

She said officials wouldn't commit to any funding, suggesting a consultant's help was needed first. 

"I thought that it was a huge step forward, and exactly what we needed," said Barwise. "I knew we needed to know how other recovery homes work, what makes them successful, what we needed to put in place. It's not just the investment of money. It's also making sure we have a sound plan to take care of vulnerable Islanders."

'We have all the work done'

Young said a consultant hasn't been completely ruled out. But she maintains there's already a sound plan in place to make Lennon House work, modelled after recovery homes in other provinces. 

"Yes they could hire a consultant. But we have all the work done," said Young. "So why not put that money into the remainder of the scope of work that has to be done to the third floor?"

Young says the third floor still needs extensive electrical and plumbing work. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Steve Guy, the board's current vice-president, agrees with Young. He said all the turnover on the board and criticism of the plan for Lennon House stem from a misunderstanding. 

"People don't seem to understand what a recovery house is compared to what a medical treatment centre is," said Guy. "This house was given to Dianne by the Catholic diocese, for a specific vision. And that vision needs to be followed.  That's what they wanted with that house. That's all we're trying to do, is create a place for people to live and get healthy, so they can go back out into society again and have a great life."

'The money will come. We'll get it'

Young said she and the remaining board members are focused now on recruiting four more members with board and business experience, who share their vision for the recovery house. 

The founder said she's also in talks with a potential operations manager for the house, who can further develop a staffing and programming plan. 

In the meantime, she said fundraising efforts and negotiations with government continue. 

"It's all going to come together, because it was meant to happen," said Young. "And we wouldn't have gotten this far, if it wasn't. You know what? The money will come. We'll get it. Basically, that's what I have to believe."

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