Canada Faces of the Open Door: Ex-addict is back on the streets, saving lives
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Ottawa's newest supervised drug injection site, a trailer beside Shepherds of Good Hope, opened its doors Tuesday.Chantal, who didn't want to give her last name, has been using hard drugs for 20 years. Even after all that time, she says she worries about overdosing every time she sticks a needle in her body.
John Tessier used to be homeless. Now he helps people get off the streets . The Open Door helped change his life and now he wants to give back .
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Part Two in a series of profiles about Westmount day centre the Open Door.
John Tessier may as well be the mayor of Cabot Square.
Most days he walks a beat stretching from the park along Atwater Ave. and into the network of alleys that slither behind the city — stopping every half-block or so to hold court.
If you’re homeless and hang out west of downtown, odds are you know John from the Open Door. He’s a street worker at the Westmount shelter and spends his time helping to get addicts into recovery.
Even in a crowded city park, it’s hard not to notice Tessier. His smile reveals two gold teeth and a pair of deep scars cut across the bridge of his nose.
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Then there are his tattoos, which have the do-it-yourself look of prison ink. Tessier says he had the letters J-O-H-N carved into his fingers while serving time in a Florida penitentiary — the artist used a needle powered by the motor of a Walkman.
“I guess I don’t exactly blend in,” says Tessier, 46. “But out here, it comes in handy.”
Tessier doles out fist bumps, high fives and wraps his massive arms around people as he makes his way across Cabot Square. He’ll stop to chat and keep his ear trained for the latest gossip.
These talks keep Tessier plugged into the street: He’ll find out who’s sleeping outside and who’s found a place to crash, who’s ready to get sober and who’s several days into a bender.
Out here, most of the people will not be saved. They will try to quit drinking, smoking crack or shooting heroin but they’ll relapse. So Tessier just walks his beat and waits.
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After the ride home and changing into her pyjamas, Hannah Crossgrove said there was a loud knock at the door shortly after midnight .Assuming it was one of her roommates, Crossgrove said she was shocked to open the door and see the Uber driver who dropped her off earlier.“He’s like, ‘Give me your number,'” said Crossgrove, who said she complied out of fear for her safety.“And thank God I gave him my real number because he dialled (it) in front of me to make sure it’s real.” Crossgrove said she quickly went inside and locked her door.She said she emailed Uber the next day to complain about the driver’s behaviour.
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“You learn that you can’t sell recovery until someone is ready to surrender themselves to it.”
Take the case of “Chuck.” Just last year, he was so deep into substance abuse that he stalked through the shelter screaming and threatening others with brass knuckles.
Tessier managed to talk Chuck down that day. And last summer, after months of patience, he got Chuck a spot in rehab and helped him find an apartment.
“No matter how bad it gets, they have to know you’re going to be there,” he says. “Otherwise what’s the point of doing this?”
David Chapman, the Open Door’s director, says Tessier is uniquely qualified to work in the shadows of the city. That’s why he recruited him.
“John understands what goes on when the lights go out,” Chapman says. “He has real compassion for the people who spend night after night on the streets because, once upon a time, he was one of those people.”
Sobriety came to Tessier in a “moment of grace” — the belief that God delivers even the most undeserving sinners.
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