Tom Smithwick has written a new book, Knocking On Freedom's Door, about his experiences advocating for a drug addiction treatment program in Kelowna. (File photo)

‘Knocking On Freedom’s Door’: A retired Kelowna lawyer’s insights to mental illness, addiction

Freedom’s Doors advocate Tom Smithwick shares what he has learned from experiences of treatment program clients in new book

When people ask the question of how to deal with Kelowna’s drug addiction social issues, retired lawyer Tom Smithwick is ready to offer an answer.

As a leading proponent for Freedom’s Door, an initiative to assist men facing mental health and drug addiction challenges launched in 2002, Smithwick has found access to what he feels is the solution to helping those who end up experiencing homelessness in Kelowna.

And, he has capsulized his views and those of some Freedom’s Door clients in a new book Knocking On Freedom’s Door, Smithwick’s account of hope-filled stories of addiction recovery and healing.

Smithwick said people had often suggested he should write a book about his Freedom’s Door experiences.

His common refrain would be “I don’t have time to write a book,” but then one day in March 2018 his thoughts on the subject began to change.

From there, it took him a year to write the rough first draft, and longer to complete the final version. He sought the guidance of other local writers including Sharron Simpson and Claire Bernstein, and he offered the opportunity for Freedom’s Door clients to share their stories.

He says up to 80 per cent of people living on the streets or shelters are suffering from mental health issues, stigmatized wrongly as people who made bad choices of their absolute free will.

“On that level, it makes it easier for people to walk away and ignore the problem, but another unfortunate component to this is we now have a Charter of Rights which has turned into protecting a person’s right to stay there,” Smithwick said.

“That person can be 25 years of age, mentally ill, abused by drug dealers, but our societal obligations to help that person who may be suffering from mental health challenges is wiped out.”

READ MORE: Addiction treatment society looks to manage BC Housing facility in Kelowna

READ MORE: Kelowna man awarded B.C. Medal of Good Citizenship

He feels the medical system has given up trying to help those battling mental health issues who live on the street, drawing a comparison to seniors stricken with dementia who receive an immediate medical response “so fast it will make your head spin.”

Today, the volunteer-created Freedom’s Door owns seven homes in Kelowna neighbourhoods housing 64 men, assisted by eight paid staff and more than 50 volunteers.

Homeless men trying to address issues in their lives are given a faith-based life structure to find and hold jobs, learn about what is ailing them physically and mentally, and how to address those issues in their lives moving forward.

Smithwick said the program is based on the Alcoholics Anonymous program started in 1935.

“That program has helped millions of people so we thought that was a pretty solid foundation upon which to base Freedom’s Door.”

The first step in recovery, he says, is to acknowledge being powerless to self-control your addiction, and infuse in individuals the support network that offers something else to rely on beyond yourself to face mental health challenges or overcome drug addiction.

“The principle of AA is creating a positive brotherhood of support, that you are not alone, that you realize you can’t do it yourself and there is a community of support out there to help.”

Smithwick said it is well documented now how addiction often comes from childhood trauma, events in a person’s life too overwhelming to address so drugs become a way to hide the pain.

“Dealing with that pain, addiction is so much about masking deeper problems. It is how we are in society today, let’s take a pill to deal with a medical issue rather than face the core of a problem that is leaving someone depressed, confused…why not look at why someone is depressed, to begin with?”

Referring to Freedom’s Door clients as “wounded warriors,” Smithwick says their stories share similarities – abandonment is a huge issue, sexual abuse, finding solace on the streets as safer than being in a dysfunctional family home.

He says initial entry into the program is a required 90-day stay, followed by an optional opportunity to stay longer to help put their lives back on track in a structured environment lacking for many of them if left on their own.

“The majority stay longer than 90 days. Many stay longer than that, up to two years in some cases. You can stay as long as you want.

“Our longest stay resident is with us eight years now. He is employed part-time but because of mental health challenges would find it difficult to cope outside of the structure provided by our program.”

Freedom’s Door is now expanding its boundaries on a broader scope around affordable housing, with an application to develop a facility in Glenmore pending grant support from BC Housing.

“It is about a $16 million project. We have a design for the building with 43 rental units planned. It is going through the rezoning process but Kelowna council has given their support,” Smithwick said.

Freedom’s Door previously proposed a dry recovery house facility for McCurdy Road three years ago but it attracted opposition from the immediate neighbours.

The grant application from BC Housing for that project was ultimately denied, and BC Housing subsequently went ahead with a facility of its own on the site, which just recently opened its doors to homeless clients.

“So in three years we’ve gone full circle…we’ve taken a step beyond being just a recovery facility to providing affordable housing for low-income people who need it.”


Just Posted

The wildfire season in the Okanagan Valley region has been approached with greater apprehension and concern from area residents since the historic Okanagan Mountain Park fire in 2003. That fire burned 25,600 hectares, forced evacuations in Kelowna and Naramata impacting more than 33,000 people, destroyed 238 homes, and claimed 12 wooden trestles and damaged two other steel trestles in Myra Canyon. (File photo)
Ominous wildfire outlook if June rains don’t return to Okanagan

Dry spring is fueling potential for busy wildfire season in July and August

Joe Rich residents want logging operations in the area to stop for now until they get more clarity on slope stability and risks to the Mission Creek watershed. (Twila Amato/Black Press Media)
Joe Rich logging poses watershed risk: residents

Area residents want the logging to stop in the area for the time being

Kelowna Law Courts. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Former Vernon teacher found guilty of historic sex crimes against minors

Anoop Singh Klair was found guilty of all eight charges against him in a Kelowna courtroom on Friday

An algal bloom on Wood Lake has residents concerned for the body of water's health. (Wendy Innes-Shaw)
‘Wood Lake looks seriously unwell’: Lake Country residents

Algal bloom appears to be getting worse, and stinky

North Okanagan business Hytec Kohler set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Spallumcheen plant Friday, May 14. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
More than half of eligible adults in Interior Health vaccinated

Over 365,000 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Chilliwack’s Kile Brown, performing as drag queen Hailey Adler, dances and lip syncs in front of hundreds of people during the inaugural Chilliwack Pride Barbecue at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Aug. 24, 2019. Monday, May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of May 16 to 22

International Day Against Homophobia, Talk Like Yoda Day, Sea Monkey Day all coming up this week

KCR Migrant Support Worker, Javier, had an exciting day escorting his son Ian with him during ‘Take your Child to Work Day’!
KCR: Volunteering is being part of a whole

KCR Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

The real estate market is hot in Vernon, and across the Okanagan. (John Dent photo)
North Okanagan home prices, demand continue to build

Single family home volumes up 200 per cent, worth average $647,000

A wildfire southeast of Vernon has been added to the BC Wildfire dashboard Friday, May 14, 2021. (BC Wildfire Service)
Wildfire sparks southeast of Vernon

The fire appears to be in a remote area east of Aberdeen Lake

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial sex-offender acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Most Read