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UGM’s Sanctuary program builds the bridge of transition by supporting mothers in recovery

Vancouver, BC—Seventeen months ago, Cassie was 19, pregnant, addicted, and faced with a life-altering choice—get clean and sober and have a shot at motherhood or lose her child to foster care. After experiencing foster care herself, Cassie had no desire to let that happen, yet she knew she couldn’t go at it alone. That’s where Union Gospel Mission’s Stabilization program for new moms stepped in.

Cassie was four when she moved with her mother to B.C. from Ontario. As she became a pre-teen, life became increasingly difficult, and the two struggled to have a healthy relationship. At age 12 Cassie entered foster care and by 13 Cassie’s battle with addiction had begun. First trying ecstasy with a friend, Cassie was soon introduced to methamphetamine, further distancing her from her mom.

“I didn’t spend a single day sober,” she says. “I just started and never stopped.”

Finally a stint of sobriety came six years later after entering court-mandated treatment in 2013—an alternative to jail— yet ultimately Cassie wasn’t ready to maintain her sobriety. The same day she exited the program, Cassie relapsed.

After seven more months of addiction, she learned she was pregnant. Determined to do right by her unborn child, Cassie fought hard against the pull of addiction and by the time her daughter Emma* was born in August 2014, Cassie had managed five months of sobriety.

Due to her substance abuse history, Cassie’s first three months as a mother were spent at Fir Square, BC Women’s Hospital’s unit for substance-using women and substance-exposed newborns. Keeping Emma in her care meant struggles with the Ministry and an urgent need to find stable, supportive housing.

That’s when Cassie found UGM’s newly founded Sanctuary program. Located at East Cordova,

The Sanctuary offers a temporary home to women and new mothers struggling with addiction, as they work towards recovery. It is currently the only program in the Downtown Eastside that offers around-the-clock support for women in recovery with babies.

“Many women find the road to a recovery-centered life to be treacherous and rocky,” says Barb Atkins, Manager of UGM’s Women and Families Centre Manager. “We’re here to help pave a smoother, more successful transition from a life of hurt and addiction to one of healing and wholeness.”

“We’re the last hope on the block for these mothers,” says Atkins.

The Sanctuary aims to support the mothers in parenting, allowing them to establish enough clean time and prove sufficient bonding and attachment with their babies that the Ministry will allow them to remain a family unit.

“Becoming a parent changes your whole perspective on the world,” says Cassie. “It makes you selfless. Even when it’s difficult, it’s so rewarding.

Becoming a mom has also has transformed the relationship between Cassie and her own mom.

“I have a whole new appreciation for my own mother,” says Cassie, who now visits her mom weekly. “In my younger years, she and I struggled to get along. We have a totally different relationship now. She’s like my best friend.”

Cassie’s future is bright, as she prepares to transition with Emma into a new low-income housing development just a few blocks from UGM. She is considering schooling as a Health Care Assistant, a path unimaginable only a few years earlier.

“I’m so grateful for this place,” says Cassie, who now has a year’s sobriety under her belt. “You know, if it wasn’t for the Sanctuary, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to raise my daughter. It’s a gift, it really is. It’s a blessing.”

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing lives of men, women, youth, and children for 75 years. Through its seven locations in Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counselling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. To learn more, visit


*Name has been changed

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