Myka Kollmann helps recovering drug addicts at Luke 15 House. Agnieszka Ruck

Student pulls back curtain on addiction

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • January 12, 2020

VANCOUVER -- When Myka Kollmann isn’t buried in textbooks at the University of British Columbia, she can often be found playing games with, running errands for, and laughing with recovering drug addicts at Luke 15 House.

The 20-something woman wasn’t always so comfortable around gruff-looking, tattooed men who have had run-ins with the criminal justice system. Growing up in the Bronx, then in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Kollmann often shied away from people who were homeless, panhandling or might have an addiction.

But at age 10, she started helping out at the first-stage recovery house in Surrey.

Initially she tagged along because her family volunteered at Luke 15 (current director Nigel Vincent is her uncle), but before long she was going of her own accord.

“As I got a bit older, I started volunteering there with fund-raisers, events, weekly dinners for community members, one-year cake celebrations, and just going and spending time and helping out any way I can,” said Kollmann.

“A lot of people have the assumption that these individuals either chose to do this, or it’s their fault they are in this life situation, or they are lazy and don’t get help, or they are a drain on the economic system. I also struggled with a lot of those.”

But volunteering at a men’s home for recovering addicts, as well as a summer internship with criminal defence lawyers in 2017, changed her view.

“I had a mind-blowing experience. There are things that surround drug addiction and people who going through it that are acting as barriers to people seeing the value in them and their capability, interacting with them and being able to help them.”

Kollmann, in the midst of an undergraduate degree in social justice and environmental studies, sought a way to pull back the curtain on addiction, recovery and criminal justice.

With help from three lawyers at Lower Mainland Law, she created

, a video series that answers questions about what it’s like to live with drug addiction, how it feels to be arrested, what an average day at a recovery house looks like and others.

“We wanted to tell a story,” said Kollmann. The videos feature three lawyers, the director of Luke 15 and a handful of recovery house residents.

“They are viewed as just addicts or criminals,” she said of the residents, whose faces are blurred to protect their privacy and give them the opportunity to speak freely.

Through conversation, she learned many had begun using drugs to try to cope with abuse, personal crises, or other trauma.

“We’re hoping to get people engaged in discussions about drug addiction and recovery” and help them “view the individuals who are affected by it and their families as people who are worthy of care, respect and love, and who deserved to be listened to and heard, and have an opportunity to contribute.”

Her videos are on the Lower Mainland Law YouTube channel and her Facebook page has hundreds of followers.

The vast majority of Luke 15 residents — about 98 per cent — have had run-ins with the law.

With only one semester of her undergraduate degree left, Kollmann is looking forward to entering law school. 

“My real interest is public policy,” she said. “I would love to help make some changes that will help people who come into contact with the legal system, help them protect their rights and help them to defend themselves.”

After laughing along with the residents of Luke 15, her perspective on drug addicts has been forever changed.

“A lot of them have that (hard exterior) because they have been hurt, misunderstood, mistreated, and yet under all of those things, there is so much warmth, love, joy, capability and strength in all of them,” said Kollmann.

Luke 15 House is a Christian non-profit supported by the Archdiocese of Vancouver and various other organizations. For more information, visit luke15house.org.

(The  B.C. Catholic)

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