VANCOUVER-When Kevin Acker was asked if he wanted to see an Olympic hockey game this week, the Salvation Army facility resident assumed he would watch it on television. He never thought he’d get donated tickets to the men’s Finland-Slovakia match Saturday.
“A year ago, if someone told me I was going to be sitting in a nice place and watching the Olympics, I wouldn’t have believed them,” says Acker, who is recovering from a cocaine-and-alcohol addiction at the Belkin House in Vancouver.
“To learn I’m going to one of the hockey games, man, that was one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Despite the different pasts that have brought them to the facility, Acker said watching the Games has been a good way to bond with the other men and women at the shelter.
A week before the opening ceremonies, the Belkin House set up a 176-inch screen for its more than 225 residents to watch the events.
“Before whatever happened, many of us remember watching other Olympics and remember sports,” said Acker, who is originally from Nova Scotia and moved out to B.C. 11 years ago.
Captain Jim Coggles, executive director of the Salvation Army’s Belkin House, said there was anxiety about the Olympics at first. Administrators didn’t know how the residents – some released from jail, others in addiction recovery or living there as an emergency shelter – would react to watching the Games.
Coggles said the Salvation Army kept the viewing plans for the Games low-key, not putting up signs or pressuring residents to go and watch the events.
But the day the torch came down the street in front of the facility and residents rushed out to see it go past, Coggles said he knew the decision to bring the Olympics into the shelter would be popular.
Dozens came to watch the opening ceremonies in the facility’s auditorium.
“As the Games go along and the spirit catches on, there’s been more and more growing attendance,” said Coggles.
He added that curling are the most popular events.
Just before the first hockey game, Coggles said, one of the residents stood up and encouraged everyone else in the room to stand for the national anthem. As soon as the music started, everyone in the crowd got up and began singing.
During the curling semi-finals, James Chisholm gave a play-by-play, explaining the difference between the team’s skip and the first, second and third positions.
It’s a language that prairie-raised Chisholm knows well, but hasn’t used much in recent years. He is three months into a detox from a cocaine-and-alcohol addiction.
“It feels good to be part of something again,” Chisholm said.