N. Philly recover center helps addicts through empathy

Posted: January 21, 2013

KENNY HORNE knows what makes the voices start.

It's being alone. Sitting in his apartment. Really, it's just waiting for them to come.

And over time, he learned how to make them stop.

"Cocaine. Pills. Alcohol."

Two-and-a-half years ago, Horne, 47, who suffers from bipolar schizophrenia and for years was addicted to drugs and alcohol, found himself in the psychiatric ward of a Delaware hospital and then a recovery house in Philly. He's been out for a year and has to find ways to keep occupied, be near people and shoo away the voices, and the temptation.

That's why, almost every day, he walks to the Philadelphia Recovery Community Center, at 17th Street and Lehigh Avenue. There, Horne attends group sessions with others recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, uses the phone to call about his Social Security disability benefits or just hangs out with people.

For Horne, the center is a stress-free place that helps him stay clean. And that's just how it was envisioned by Dr. Arthur Evans, who heads the city's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services.

Evans' recovery-centered approach to addiction and mental-health services, which he instituted in Connecticut, has spread to city and state governments across the country in the past few years and was embraced by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

His model aims to improve results by helping addicts achieve long-term stability, instead of just getting them clean and sending them on their way.

In the past, Evans said, addicts often would "go through a 28-day program, get discharged and hope to do OK."

"And now my department says, 'Well, we really need to fund things that help people with their long-term recovery, all those life skills that are really important to people being successful,' " he said.

Evans said the North Philly center, which has a budget of about $400,000, exemplifies this approach. It has an open door for anyone with addiction or psychiatric issues and will help those who walk through that door with career planning, computer training, advice on expunging criminal records and other services. It also hosts sober social events.

Part of what makes the center unique is that it's run largely by volunteers and former drug users.

Walk in the door and you're greeted by a receptionist who is in recovery from addiction. Attend a group session, and you'll be led by a facilitator who's overcome the obstacles he or she is describing. Meet one-on-one with a specialist, and you'll likely be talking with someone who has been on the other side of the table in a similar meeting.

One of those specialists is Evan Figueroa, who overcame a drug addiction, in part, by coming to the Community Recovery Center.

"They gave me opportunity when society said I was no good," Figueroa said. "I was so grateful for the help that they gave me, I became a volunteer. Now I have a job because someone gave me a chance."

People struggling with addiction feel more comfortable at the center because much of the staff is in recovery, he said.

"When I walk in, I'm not going to see a white coat," Figueroa said.

For Horne, it's easier to believe that he can keep his life on track when he's around so many people who have already done it.

"That's why I come here."

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

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