Millionaire John Volken offers treatment to addicts
When he immigrated to Canada from Germany at the age of 18, John Volken says, he had less than $100 in his pocket. He started at the bottom, working as a labourer on farms and construction sites and as a dishwasher. Eventually, he opened a secondhand furniture store, which grew into massively profitable business. The United Furniture Warehouse generated annual sales of more than $200 million, turning him into a millionaire many times over.
In a recent phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Volken noted that some wealthy people choose to donate money to sporting activities or arts and culture. He, on the other hand, decided to help drug and alcohol addicts. After selling his company in 2004, he sank approximately $100 million into the John Volken Foundation, which funds an addiction-treatment centre in Surrey called Welcome Home. “Making money was fun,” he said reflectively. “Doing Welcome Home is satisfying. You know, I work harder than ever before. It’s emotional.”
Prior to selling his company, he visited recovery centres in Europe and the United States to learn more about this area. On these trips, he concluded that the “most successful therapeutic communities in the world” retain their clients for a minimum of two years. Volken said that people can overcome the physical addiction of drugs or alcohol in three or four weeks. But he maintained that a person with a substance-abuse problem requires up to five years in treatment to turn his or her life around and achieve lifetime sobriety.
“We want to get to the cause of the addiction,” he said.
Volken designed Welcome Home with this in mind. The “students”, as they’re called, live long-term in a therapeutic community for free after paying a $387 registration fee. There’s a nearby 60,000-square-foot store, called PricePro, that sells groceries and household goods, including furniture. The retail outlet helps recovering addicts learn life, job, and social skills, with the proceeds funding Welcome House.
“We teach all aspects of successful living: vocational training, but also hygiene and leadership,” Volken declared. “We put a lot of emphasis on leadership. Many of our students never exerted themselves in any way at all.”
When asked why he decided to focus his attention on addicts, he replied that it stemmed from his Christian beliefs. He cited a passage from Matthew: “Inasmuch as you have done it for the least of My brothers, you have done it unto Me.”
“A drug addict needs help,” Volken said. “He cannot do it on his own.”
He added that this extends to offering financial assistance to people who graduate from the program. According to Volken, they each receive $3,000 upon completion, which they can use to set themselves up in an apartment and find a job. “We set them up for life.”
May 12, 2011 at 4:27pm
I was wondering about the Foundation's ads, thinking "Is this for real?" This is amazing! Would be even more amazing if City of Vancouver and the BC Government would jump on board and team up with John Volken to help those most in need who are willing to do this program.
May 14, 2011 at 10:40am
Lord bless John and this endeavour! Getting people off drugs does not involve making it easier (or "safer") for them to take them, but that laborious process of walking with them and encouraging them.
Jul 18, 2011 at 1:58pm
Thank you for your article on recovery from addiction. However, I wish you covered the following points in discussing the story of John Volken and his Welcome Home. Hope you discuss them in the future.
The story was impressive, but it left a few questions unanswered.
1. "Registration Fee"
John Volken claims in his advertisements that each addict costs him $76,000 for therapy. Why does he bother to collect $387 "registration fee" from the poor addicts?
How many students have paid the "Registration Fee" worked hard in his grocery store (Price Pro), then left empty handed? you might find that at least 1000 students had failed to have this 25 students (see Georgia Straight).
How much has John collected in registration fees from failed students? They have paid $387,000 to Mr. Volken's Welcome Home and left empty handed.
2. Calling addicts "students"
Calling addicts students is a misnomer to justify "FREE LABOR" This people work very hard in the store for food and shelter under the guise of therapy. Those "students" work much harder than those you meet at grocery stores like Costco, Safeway, and Superstore.
If you compare them to any "workers" in a grocery store, they would have been paid between $15 - $20/hour ($3000-$4000 a month) plus benefits. What do these students get for their work? Food and shelter in a work camp called "Welcome home." The whole program is dependent on Peer counseling (no cost) and there is no significant "THERAPY" offered to them. Doesn't this sound like manipulation of those most vulnerable?
The program has been working for more than two years. You did not tell us how many "students" graduated from this program he had, and what happened to them.
The program is questionable to say the least and need to be evaluated by the medical authorities of BC.
Jan 22, 2012 at 5:30pm
As someone who watched a dear friend suffer through 6 years of addiction before eventually being healed (or cured, or whatever you might call it), I know what it's like to watch someone "return" from that terribly dark place. It's like a miracle!
But I also know that the Welcome Home 'program' was of no help whatever in treating my friend. In fact, it was a terribly destructive experience that only deepened his sense of hopelessness at the time. And it has apparently been the same for many, many others.
The problem seems to begin with the man you are praising in this article. John Volken has absolutely no training or education in the field of addiction therapy. Yet he insists that he must control every minute detail of these young men's lives while they are under his authority.
Just try to find out what the actual success ratio is ... what percentage of those who enrol ever "graduate"?
Less than 2%? Maybe less than 1% is my guess.
And throughout their stay at Welcome Home, the addicts trying to recover are forced to work for FREE in Mr Volken's store!!! (I can't even believe that is legal.)
Thankfully my friend found a legitimate recovery program, run by trained professionals. So I KNOW that good help is out there, but I don't think you'll find it at John Volken's work camp.
Aug 31, 2012 at 10:18am
I went to this "Welcome home" place back in 2005 because I had run out of options and it was a horrible. The psychologist they had working there was a total nutbar. They control every aspect of your life. The program is not free as the website suggests. When I was there they had me collecting a welfare cheque and working for free in John's store. You are given $2.00 "walk around money" per month and are only allowed to leave the house in a group. I was allowed to go to NA meetings maybe once a week, which really isn't enough for someone in early recovery. I ended up leaving because I couldn't stand being treated like a child any more. When I left, I left a few belongings there that I said I was coming back for in a day or two. When I came back all my stuff had been stolen and the psychologist had quit and half the residents had gone to live at her house. My Mom spoke to John on the phone after I left, trying to find out what happened. He told her if she had been a better mom I wouldn't be where I was. John Volken's Welcome home project is NOT recovery.
Mar 21, 2013 at 5:04pm
I was actually introduced to WelcomeHome in 2008 and began volunteering there doing workshops as I am a high school teacher. 5 years later I am still involved with WelcomeHome and continue to be amazed at how lives can change and witness how lasting sobriety is possible.
Some of the above comments are very inaccurate.
Free labour....There is no free labour at "John's" store. In fact, the Volken Foundation heavily subsidizes the store with the sole purpose of providing a safe environment for men and women in the recovery program to learn work skills. He does not earn a penny from it, but puts everything he has into it.
Success Rate...I have personally witnessed 5 graduations up to this point and remain in contact with almost all of the graduates. Some still work with WelcomeHome or PricePro, others have gone on to do apprenticeships in mechanics, metal fabrication and so forth, and others who have moved away to return to their families continue to stay in touch. As is the case with every recovery program, there are those that do relapse, but the rate of relapse in a program that lasts a minimum of two years are far less than that of a short-term program. The goal of WelcomeHome is to provide all the tools and the support groups necessary to ensure sobriety can be maintained after graduation.
Registration fee...It amazes me that the entire 2-5 year program is free. Other programs out there charge thousands of dollars monthly. The WelcomeHome program has a one time intake fee and that money is used up by the time the intake is complete in administrative fees.There are no hidden monthly fees, all clothing, food, recreation, etc. are all paid for. In my mind, the most important part of the intake fee is that it shows a level of commitment by the person entering the program.
No one needs to try and defend the WelcomeHome program as the men and women in the program and the graduates are evidence that it works.
For any who doubt, I would suggest visiting the WelcomeHome website at www.whrecovery.org or going in for a tour in person. Every day I am at WelcomeHome makes me a better person.
Jun 10, 2013 at 8:46pm
Hahahah This Place Is A Joke
Jun 21, 2013 at 11:33pm
Gabrielle, you haven't addressed the questions people have raised here. You have only danced around the real questions.
On the issue of 'students' (those enrolled in treatment) being required to work for free, all you say is that the store is "heavily subsidized" and that John himself doesn't make earn a penny. But that's a different matter and you know it. Yes, the store loses money, so subsidies from the JV Foundation are needed to keep it afloat. This despite the fact that the store is provided "rent-free". (What happened to John's entrepreneurial skills? With 60,000 square feet of FREE retail he can't even break-even?!)
But again, the issue was Students being required to work for free. Are you claiming this is not true? Do the Students get paid minimum wage? Do they receive paychecks every two weeks or every month? Of course not, and you know it! So why the deception?
You also dodge the "success rate" question. You've seen people "graduate", but that wasn't the issue. Once again, you dodged the real issue: What is the success rate? In other words, out of ALL the poor, desperate souls who have ever entered the 'program', what percentage have actually graduated? 1%? 2%?? It is an alarmingly tiny percentage, and you know it. You pretend that the graduates are evidence that John's forced labour camp "works". In fact, the microscopically small success rate actually demonstrates that the Welcome Home program does NOT work for 98 or 99% of those who are desperate enough to surrender themselves to John's own addiction to dictatorial control.
Which leads to the other big problem you don't want to address. The fact that John has absolutely no prior training, education or experience in the incredibly complex field of addiction recovery. All he has to justify his dominion over these troubled young people is the Golden Rule. You know the one: he who has all the gold makes all the rules.
Sep 6, 2013 at 10:00pm
All of you low information trolls that love ripping on the success of others on the Internet; I suggest you get a better hobby! Talking about success rates of his students haha What a joke! What have you people done with your life? Oh that's right you don't have the intelligence or fortitude to be as successful as John Volken! You couldn't donate 100 million dollars to a good cause... Cause odds are you live pay check to paycheck. If John Volken craved money he would be in a different business. Forced labor!? I'm sorry last time I checked they're all adults Mommy doesn't need to sign a permission slip for them to be there! Many drop because many addicts never get better. When a low information crowd sits and harps on a guy whose giving back to the community it disgusts me! So Andy, Jen, Rory, Kal, and Bilbar just sit back and watch it grow. I hope the success eats at you because they just built another in Arizona and have had one established in Seattle. So yeah most people can't graduate because its about making you a serious individual and contributor to your community and lets face it most people are useless. On his qualifications hahaha sorry he didn't pay a few thousand dollars for some bull shit books and classes. I really do loathe you morons... Take your pain and self hate somewhere else. Or better than that start you're own rehabilitation center since you all think you can so it so much better... Ha that's right stick your blogs you self loathing chumps!
Mar 26, 2014 at 4:01pm
Common sense AKA john volken!!!!! only obvious!!!