Center Offers Addicts a Chance 

Center Offers Addicts a Chance 
Posted by FoM on January 01, 2000 at
07:34:31 PT
By Nancy J. Smeltzer, Dispatch Staff Reporter 
Source: Columbus Dispatch
If Herb Hickson ever had a safe haven, it was bed No. 25.The one in the corner. He spent the better part of seven days and nights in it."Up. Eat. Back to bed,'' said Hickson, 42.These were the most healthful things he had done in months. Neither alcohol nor crack cocaine were on the menu.
He was taking a break from drugging and drinking in Franklin County's newest safety net for homeless addicted men -- the Engagement Center near Maryhaven, an alcohol-treatment center on Alum Creek Drive. Some of the men who have stayed there call it a sanctuary where they sober up, sleep, eat, clean up, do laundry and talk about getting help for their addiction.The men used to go to the Open Shelter in Franklinton, but they are no longer welcome there since the new Ohio's Center of Science and Industry opened in November as a tourist attraction on the west bank of the Scioto River. The Open Shelter has been criticized by neighbors as a menace. The shelter, which refers men to addiction programs, was viewed more as a revolving door -- a night's shelter, food and information about rehab programs. The goal of the Engagement Center -- which is run by Maryhaven, the area's foremost alcohol-treatment program -- is to more aggressively coax the men into treatment.Since the 35-bed center opened Oct. 1, about 170 men have stayed there each month, about 75 percent more than expected, said Paul Coleman, president of Maryhaven. About 25 percent have gone into detoxification programs.The Engagement Center is now in temporary quarters. Ground is to be broken for a permanent facility in the spring at the same location. Building costs of $1.7 million will be covered by Franklin County; operating costs are paid by the Franklin County Board of Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health services. The first year's operating budget is $682,014.Coleman has promised to increase to 200 the number of homeless men entering detoxification programs each year. Coleman expects that 8 percent of that number will stay sober.In the past year, 95 of the 1,520 who stayed at the Open Shelter's inebriate unit went through detox.The key is time, said Donna Harris, a case manager at the Engagement Center and a certified chemical-dependency counselor. "The Engagement Center allows them some amount of time so they can rest their body and clear their mind.'' As the fog in Hickson's head cleared, he began watching. "I would see drunks come in,'' he said. "It was like me looking in the mirror. I saw the pain they were suffering. It was time for me to make a choice. I didn't have to live like that.''Hickson and three other men who were among the first to be taken to the center gathered recently to talk about their experience. The front door to the building opened several times. Two men, obviously drunk, stumbled in and waved at the familiar faces. "There are some of my fellow campers,'' said Keith Moody, 45, after acknowledging street friends he hadn't seen for a while."That was us,'' said John Campbell, 31, nodding toward the men he had known while living on the street. He, too, was brought to the center by Tim Jarvis, who drives a van for Netcare picking up homeless men."Hopefully, he won't have to pick us up anymore,'' Campbell said.The homeless life was exhausting. Physically, the men were ill from poor nourishment. In the months they have not been drinking or using drugs, they each have gained anywhere from 11 pounds to 40. Their gaunt looks are gone."I was tired of it all, living behind Dumpsters, robbing, stealing,'' Campbell said. "I did it for 15 years.''Jarvis found Campbell so drunk that he couldn't stand.The four men had shared the center at the same time, but not much else. Moody crashed in bed No. 14. It was the first bed he had slept in since March.He remembered Campbell in No. 33, Hickson in No. 25, and Elbert Ellison in No. 8."That was my domain where I could pray and not have any interruptions,'' said Ellison, 39. "I was ready to survive.''He has been through many rehab programs through the years, but never was convinced that he had an addiction problem. "I kept doing the same things, expecting different results,'' he said. Today, he relies on God and a Christian program to help him.Harris said that the men who stay for a few days hear case workers chat with others about rehabilitation. The conversations are casual, usually over a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Hard sells won't work with these men, she said. Respect does. Campbell used the Engagement Center four or five times, staying long enough to clean up, sleep and eat. Every time he left, Harris whispered: "Whenever you're ready.'' She never chided him when he stumbled.She remembered Hickson once left the center saying that he was not going to use drugs or drink. He returned embarrassed and broke. When he spoke, he said: "I'm ready.''"We can only plant the seed,'' Harris said. "We can't make it grow.''Published: January 1, 2000Copyright  2000, The Columbus Dispatch 
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