Former drug dealer launches fourth sober house

Nearly seven years clean, John Button opened his fourth house for men recovering from addiction. He already operates three sober living homes near Drouillard Road.

The 20-room home was a former drug den

John Button has opened his fourth recovery home in Windsor for men with addiction. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

For several years, John Button was dealing drugs on the streets of Windsor — something he openly admits.

"I bought and sold drugs to pay for my habit, and it evolved into crime for a lot of years."

Now he's doing the opposite — trying to keep drugs out of the hands of people seeking a clean life.

"We are saving people from drowning from addictions," he said.

Nearly seven years clean, Button opened his fourth house for men recovering from addiction. He already operates three sober living homes near Drouillard Road.

Sober living homes are transitional housing for people typically leaving jail or recovery centres, and who have a desire to re-build their life while clean and sober. 

Launch Pad Recovery Center is trying to fill that transition gap. Its sober houses come at a time when opioid use is on the rise and when the City of Windsor is trying to shift focus toward a 'housing first' strategy when it comes to homelessness.

Former motel and drug den is now a home for recovering addicts. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

The new house — beside the former downtown Library location on Ouellette Avenue — has 20 rooms. The building was a former motel and drug den, said Button. In January, it was gutted and immediately started housing recovering addicts.

Life after drugs and alcohol

Button started using drugs when he was 18, but when he was ready to quit, he didn't know where to go.

"At 45 I was in a jail cell again and I got to this point where I was sick and tired of my old life and I didn't know how to change."

Button said he found Jesus in that jail cell.

"I asked God to forgive my sins... the holy spirit come in me and upon me at the same time in a jail cell in 2012," he said. "That's my journey and I know my journey is true."

When Button left jail, he didn't have anywhere to go. He said the only person he knew who was sober was his mom. So he moved in with her and started attending 12-step meetings.

In October 2017 he opened Launch Pad Recovery Center on Drouillard Road. It was meant to be a house for people like him - who have come from jail or a residential recovery centre and need a sober house to safely and successfully re-enter society.

But Button said there was a lot of opposition to his proposal to have people living there.

So, that building stayed a commercial building and it's now an active recovery centre with programs for people with addictions.

John Button is opening sober living houses for people transitioning from jail or recovery centres back into society. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Then in October 2018, he opened his first sober living home with four beds.

The Ouellette location opened in January 2020.

"We have 31 beds available for people seeking a new life through recovery," he said.

18, homeless and recovering

Adam, 18, came through the doors on Ouellette Avenue two weeks ago. He said his parents kicked him out because of his drug use.

"I just started off drinking and stuff but then I got in to some bad crowds and I started working full-time when I was in Grade 11."

Adam said having money, his own car and a strong desire to party created a perfect recipe for his addiction to take over. Now on the streets at 18, Adam said he had no where to go.

Adam has a sober visit with his grandfather Andy Geddes (Amy Dodge/CBC)

While the policy at Launch Pad is for people to have at least 30 days of sobriety, Button made an exception for Adam because he was already attending 12-step meetings and Adam had made a choice to live a clean life.

Adam's grandfather believes this place saved his grandson's life.

"It was the biggest relief we ever had. This place is a miracle," said Andy Geddes. "He has completely changed... We were terrified. His grandmother cries every day, we were really worried about him."

To stay in this house, Adam must attend a 12-step meeting every day, see a personal counsellor every week and he cannot relapse again or he will be kicked out of Launch Pad for at least one year. He must also contribute to rent.

Robert Sandwith has been in the sober living homes for seven months and clean for nearly a year. 

"I basically self-medicated from anxiety and depression and where it ended me was in jail," he said. "The longest I stayed out of jail — over a five-year period — was 22 days."

Robert Sandwith is nearly a year clean and sober and is helping others in recovery to achieve the same. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

He said what was missing for him, was a lack of support when he was out of custody and trying to stay clean.

"So I would be sober for six, eight months [in jail] ... and when I'd get out I couldn't, it's a lot of work to get those first few days in. The first 72 hours are very critical."

Sandwith couldn't stay sober on his own. He believes this option of a sober house for people like him coming from jail is crucial.

Jordan Baylis-Morgan is a psychotherapist who works with the men at the Launch Pad sober living homes. He agrees with Sandwith.

"The reality is those who suffer through addiction will be doing it for the rest of their life," he said. "You need to be able to incorporate your new way of life, your recovery life, into your real life."

Psychologist Jordan Baylis-Morgan provides counselling to residents at Launch Pad in the downtown location. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

More sober living homes?

Button said he isn't done opening sober homes in Windsor.

Another house is in the works that would add an additional 30 beds.



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