Faces of the Downtown Eastside: Verna's Story

Dec 19 2017, 10:43 pm

Last week, we shared Jay’s story within the Faces of the Downtown Eastside series, taking a look at the struggles that Jay has overcome. This week, we continue to shed light to the Faces of the Downtown Eastside as we focus on Verna Benson’s story, a Shelters Programs Addiction and Community Service Worker at Harbour Light.


It was a tough journey being an addicted, homeless, single mother – couch surfing and staying in some very turbulent relationships just so that she wasn’t out on the streets. Benson looked at how her life was going to impact her baby son and was certain that she wanted to quit smoking and to stop using drugs and alcohol. So it was then, in 1991, that Benson decided to turn her life around.

Benson first attended sessions with an Alcohol and Drug Worker at the Native Court Workers and Counselling Association of British Columbia. They referred her to a Treatment Centre for her first attempt at recovering from her addiction. She relapsed her first time, however, in 1992, she went to Maple Ridge Treatment Centre (MRTC) where she found success through doing the 12 step work, attending counselling sessions and doing group work. After all of the daily work was done, her recovery group would meet to roast weenies and marshmallows, sing songs and dance sober. To this day, she is still active in her recovery work, 23 years later.

Image courtesy of The Salvation Army

Image courtesy of The Salvation Army

She received her Addiction & Community Services Worker Diploma in June of 2008 and three months later started working for Vancouver Coastal Health’s MAT program. Later that year, Benson joined the Salvation Army Harbour Light in the Downtown Eastside where she continues her work in coordinating services for the community, training volunteers and coaching and mentoring new staff.

Working with people who are challenged with addiction is still a passion of Benson’s. She is very open about her past homelessness and addiction with her clients, and tells them when they share their stories that she has “been there, done that.” They really seem to appreciate that she truly know where they’re coming from.

Benson would like to thank The Salvation Army management team for their continued support with helping the community, and would also like to thank all of the clients that she has worked with and commend them on their successes in their work toward sobriety.

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