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Dynamic Recovery

A new approach to homelessness and addiction

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At the edge of the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus in Raleigh is a large clearing of land bordered by tall trees on three sides. On a recent sunny afternoon, a yellow crane extends its long mechanical neck to scoop up chunks of the rocky red clay that covers the surface. A green bulldozer pauses to plot its next wave.

Shift to a low-income neighborhood in Louisville, Ky., where the homeless and addicted pass through the always-open doors of a comprehensive recovery facility known as The Healing Place. For the past seven years, the facility--which hosts a homeless shelter, a non-medical detoxification unit and a free medical clinic--has experienced an unprecedented level of success at transforming the lives of its occupants. And that success has come without the high costs and bureaucratic impositions commonly associated with traditional treatment programs.

Next spring, Raleigh will have its own Healing Place, located on the spot now occupied by mechanical monsters and red clay.

"[Currently], anyone smelling of alcohol is turned away from area shelters," says Dennis Parnell, executive director of Raleigh's new facility. Citing the Louisville program's nationally recognized success record--nearly two-thirds of its graduates remain sober--Parnell explains that our region lacks a homeless facility "equipped to handle intoxication. The Healing Place will have the capability to manage the dual problems of homelessness and addiction."

"I met individuals who had rebuilt their lives and made stunning transitions," says Maria Spaulding, director of human services for Wake County. Spaulding took a delegation of 17 people to Kentucky in 1998 to observe the facility in action. Struck by its phenomenal success, she knew "we had to bring the program to our area."

"Any system of care should promote independence, and I'm not sure that's always been the case with many of our programs," continues Spaulding. But The Healing Place is not a "revolving door. Instead, it says, 'These services are here for you because you need them, but we will enable you to fend for yourself.'"

Spaulding and Parnell were initially attracted to the program's conceptual foundation. "Recovery Dynamics" is a self-help model that utilizes the peer-counseling and 12-step recovery aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous in conjunction with structured incentives. An individual who enters the shelter drunk is referred to the detox center, where he sobers up. He is then transferred to a motivational unit where he and other addicts are counseled daily by program alumni. If he remains sober and meets his requirements, the addict earns a more comfortable residential arrangement where he shares a semiprivate room with three others. If he continues to do well, he secures an even nicer transitional-living setup, where he and a roommate work on restoring family ties and finding employment.

"Recovery is the No. 1 priority," says Parnell, stressing that other activities are reserved for the transitional-living stage.

Parnell and a core group of supporters quickly raised the $4.5 million needed to build the Raleigh facility, the majority of those dollars coming from private corporations. The largest contributor to date is Wake Med.

"Hospitals and emergency medical services will be the biggest beneficiaries of The Healing Place," Parnell says, noting the potential dollars saved by such institutions in transporting and treating addicts who lack a means of payment. "They need to buy into this process for their sake and the community's sake."

Like the Louisville program, costs will be kept low in Raleigh by utilizing volunteers and credit-seeking medical students from local colleges. However, the search for an operating budget is ongoing.

"I'm still waiting to see if Rex and Raleigh Community will step up to bat," says Parnell.

Although the state contributed the site where the facility will be housed, Parnell clarifies that the role of government will be minimal. "This project needs to be owned and financed by the community," he says. In these days of managed care and federal cutbacks, Parnell continues, "we need community-based alternatives that are cost-effective and can operate independently, but in conjunction with the state. This model allows the community the opportunity to take care of itself."

Given that the facility will handle no more than 166 participants at a time, Parnell acknowledges that The Healing Place won't wipe out homelessness in our area. At least not yet.

"Our goal is to change the paradigm of how homelessness is approached," he says. "It's an admittedly lofty goal, but we want to educate the public that this is a problem that can be solved." EndBlock

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