Drug rehabilitation centers offer hopeto residents
effects of drug and alcohol addiction
As the ravaging effects of drug and alcohol addiction continue to affect thousands of residents
of South Los Angeles, a growing number of drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation centers have
sprung up to meet the needs of the addicted. Providing a haven from the streets as well as a
shelter from hopelessness and despair, these rehabilitation centers, which offer comprehensive
detoxification programs coupled with extensive counseling services, literally touch and transform lives. Mary*, 52, is a graduate of the Mini Twelve Step House, the oldest drug recovery home serving women of color in Southern California. Her life is a cautionary tale of the harrowing scourge of drug addiction.
A marijuana smoker since the age of 14, Mary eventually graduated to smoking cocaine. As
her drug use increased, Mary was evicted from her apartment and lost her job. Homeless, the
mother of one sought shelter by riding buses and eventually wound up on Skid Row, where she
was subsequently raped. After being arrested for cashing bad checks and spending time in jail, Mary finally heard her “wake-up call.” “I said, ‘This is not me. I have to go and get some
help.’” With the aid of her mother, Mary enrolled in Mini Twelve Step House in August
“Coming to Mini Twelve Step changed my life a lot,” declares Mary, who now works as a fiscal coordinator for the program. “I started going to a lot of meetings, and I got a sponsor who took me through all of the 12 steps of the program. I also learned how to take care of myself and become independent.” Mini Twelve Step House was founded in 1971 by Marie Bowden, who opened her home to women who sought a haven from alcohol and drugs.
“We offer a foundation of hope and love,” said Bobbi Owens, who serves as executive director of the program. “Our motto is ‘There is No Place Like Home.’”
The state-licensed and certified alcohol-anddrug program offers 180 days of continuous substance abuse prevention and intervention activities. With an outpatient program located in the city of Compton as well as two sites in South Los Angeles, residents restructure their
lives through group and individual therapy sessions. Upon first enrolling, residents must go
through a 30-day crisis intervention and orientation stage where their immediate needs are assessed.
Over the next 120 days, they receive primary care through group and individual
therapy sessions. An exit planning and re-entry stage is completed during the last 30 days of residency. “The program is highly structured,” said Owens, who added that the facility is funded
by the County of Los Angeles, private foundations and through fund-raising efforts.
“The women are involved in group meetings, parenting, domestic-violence groups and job
preparation classes, as well as after-care and outpatient programs.”
But for Owens, one of the most important aspects of the Mini Twelve Step House is the
fellowship and support that the women receive as well as the opportunity to interact with other women who have gone through recovery. “I believe our greatest resource is the people who have come through the program, who are trained and certified,” said Owens. “Because they have had success, they have made it their mission to pass on their experience to other women recovering
in the program.”
Another long-standing drug-and-alcohol facility for women, His Sheltering Arms, was founded in 1985 by Lillian Jeffries, 77, who perceived a need to create a facility for drugaddicted
women who had no place to live. The 112-bed facility offers residential, day treatment, after-care and an alcohol- and drug-free living center. The center also welcomes women who have children and who are affected by the HIV/AIDS virus. His Sheltering Arms also offers effective parenting/
child-development classes, life skills, relapse prevention, individual and group counseling, HIV/AIDS education and 12-step meetings.
Jeffries, who noted the center has aided approximately 5,000-8,000 women since its
inception, said the only criteria needed for acceptance into the facility is that “the
women must be serious about wanting to get off drugs and willing to do whatever it takes.
We ask them, ‘Are you willing to go to any extremes to get sober?’” If they answer yes,
we take them in.”
Jeffries, who said the women routinely rise at 6 a.m. to begin a full day of activities
and classes, feels blessed to have founded His Sheltering Arms, which has helped to reunite
thousands of women with their children over the years. Alice*, 65, came to His Sheltering Arms
in July 2000 and stayed for six months, in an effort to conquer alcoholism. She said the
help and counseling she received at the center was invaluable. “Listening to other people and realizing that I was not the only one having a problem really helped,” she noted.
“The counselors were extremely welladvised.” Alice said she enjoyed the supportive, family like atmosphere. “There was a lot of love and concern.” After recovery, Alice managed the center’s sober living homes for three years. “ I learned a lot and I helped a lot of people—I was able to give back what I received.”
Shields for Families, a non-profit community- based organization, has seven substanceabuse
facilities in Compton and Watts and was incorporated in 1991 by Kathryn Icenhower, Dr. Xylina Bean and Dr. Norma Mtume. The organization, which is funded by the Los Angeles County Alcohol and Drug Program Administration and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, provides an array of community programs, including an extensive substance-abuse treatment program that services 350 patients at any given time. Clients usually receive treatment
for a period of 12 to 24 months.
“The majority of our clients have been struggling with the influence of crack cocaine,” said Icenhower, who added that nearly 80 percent of the clients have used the
drug. Icenhower said the program experienced an influx of clients addicted to crack
cocaine during the mid-80s, when the potent drug first surfaced in the African-American
Icenhower noted that Shields for Families receives clients through walk-ins, court referrals
and through the Department of Social Services. Counselors also do outreach and contact other agencies to find clients who are in need of services.
Shields for Families offers a nontraditional residential as well as outpatient program, including Exodus, where patients reside in an 86-unit apartment complex while they attend treatment classes from six to eight hours a day, Monday through Saturday.
Icenhower said that after graduation, clients are referred to several of the facility’s support groups. “We also provide lifetime after-care services,” she added.
Icenhower revealed that working at Shields for Families has been extremely gratifying.
“It’s rewarding to see families get back together, to see them go back to school and get their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It’s also rewarding when they come back and say, ‘Thank you for helping me.’”
The House of Uhuru, founded in 1969 during the height of the civil rights movement, has assisted thousands of community residents in reaching recovery. Operating under the umbrella of the Watts Healthcare Corporation, the House of Uhuru offers an array of services, including drug-and-alcohol education, an HIV/AIDS residential treatment and detox program, group, educational and vocational counseling, computer training, housing assistance and a relapse-prevention program, among other services.
“The House of Uhuru is a trailblazer in the field of substance-abuse facilities and was
doing treatment long before treatment became trendy,” said Sharon Allen, director
of the program. “Our goal is to give our clients a sense of re-entering a residential
society with some structure.” Allen noted that although most clients who are admitted are crack cocaine users, she has noticed that there has been a resurgence of clients who have been admitted due to heroin and methamphetamines.
“We do intake on a daily basis for both outpatient and residential clients,” said Allen of the center—a 66-bed facility that houses men, women and their children. “Clients meet with a social worker who will put together an individualized treatment program, after which the person will be assigned to a big brother or sister who has been very successful
in the program.”
Allen added that clients undergo group therapy and individual sessions over a period
of nine months to a year. In the last few months of their stay, residents begin a job search or enroll in school. But it is the close, caring atmosphere at the House of Uhuru that has brightened the lives of both the residents and the staff. Frank Banks, who is the facilities coordinator
at the House of Uhuru and has been employed there for 26 years, revealed that he
was once a resident. Once addicted to heroin, Banks said that the House of Uhuru saved
his life. “I promised God that if he would show me the way and a reason not to use drugs, I would spend the rest of my life helping folks who were in the same situation I was in.”
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