Alberta’s wilderness drug treatment program at risk of closing

A drug treatment program based in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains has just two months to secure major funding or be forced to close.

The Shunda Creek Wilderness Addiction Treatment Program – located west of Rocky Mountain House – has been running for 13 years, helping men between the ages of 18 and 24 struggling with addiction.

The program — run by the nonprofit Enviros — incorporates wilderness into its treatment.

“It pulls these young men out of environments that cultivate active addiction,” said Shunda Creek employee and alumnus Stephen Harding.

“It removes them from those triggers in those environments so they can have some breathing room to start working on the things that caused the addiction.”

Harding began his attempt at recovery from addiction in 2010, trying 12-step programs and several treatment centers.

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“I eventually relapsed and returned to active use for about seven months. It ended with an overdose at the Red Deer hospital. From there I went to the Red Deer drug rehabilitation center and I found Shunda Creek through an addiction counselor. That was six years ago.”

Similar to Harding, Colton Rolof frequented Shunda Creek six years ago.

“I found myself in pretty dark places, drinking and using drugs every day, waking up needing to use just to get through everyday life,” Rolof said.

“I went back to my hometown in Barrhead, looked my mum in the eye and said I didn’t know what to do. I’m on a very direct path to death or prison and I need to figure something out.

“So I went down and contacted the local councilor and he mentioned a place called Shunda Creek.”

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Last week, Rolof learned that the camp was in danger of closing due to funding issues.

Facilities at the rented camp have fallen into disrepair and Enviros must purchase a new location to continue the program.

Shunda Creek processing facility in western Alberta.


“The buildings are quite old. It’s a rented property, I believe. So we have to move and in order to maintain the therapeutic nature of the wilderness program, we have to stay in a wilderness program facility,” Harding said.

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A new camp site has been found, but Enviros does not have the financial means to purchase the site.

“My heart was absolutely broken. I came home from my 14 hour work day and cried for a good three hours in my room. I did not know what to do. I was in touch with the staff, called the camp, said there must be something we can do,” Rolof said.

Rolof decided to start a GoFundMe page a week ago and within the first 24 hours raised $10,000.

The goal is to raise $625,000 to help Enviros purchase the new camp.

The additional land would also increase the number of beds offered from 10 to 18.

“It’s a 10-bed treatment program. If we can overcome this next hurdle, it can become an 18-bed treatment program. We will have more customers, more staff, more resources available to continue this great work,” Harding said.

“The Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services wholeheartedly support the program itself, funding the program, funding the staff – only the funding for the new location is insufficient.

“The goal of this GoFundMe is to be able to purchase the new land so they can expand the program.”

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Justin Brattinga, acting spokesperson for the Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, said in a statement that “we want to ensure that Enviros can continue to provide these services to young people with addictions.

“That’s why we are working with Enviros and Alberta Health Services to find a solution to this long-term operating site issue. AHS is providing support, along with Alberta Health, to help Enviros obtain lender approval to better position the program for the long term,” the statement read.

“People currently receiving care at Shunda Creek will continue to be supported in their treatment and recovery.

“We will continue to support Enviros as needed to ensure the essential services they provide to Alberta’s youth can continue.

Supporters held a rally on Wednesday to publicize the program and hope to gain support as the deadline approaches.

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