Douglas Park Place Aims to Reunite Recovering Addicts with Their Families Print
News/Features - Local News
Tuesday, 07 November 2006 22:31

Ametra Carrol spent the better part of a decade addicted to crack cocaine, and it almost killed her. After completing a detox and rehab program, she found herself unable to stay clean when she returned to her old neighborhood - and the friends with whom she got high.

"Its true what they say: You need to stay away from people, places, and things [associated with addiction] until you get strong enough," said Carrol, now a community activist.

That lesson has pushed Carrol to work with Rock Island leaders to develop the Douglas Park Place recovery home, designed to help Quad Cities-area mothers and their families overcome the challenges she once faced with substance abuse.

Under construction at 720 Ninth Street in Rock Island, the eight-unit complex will provide temporary housing for women receiving treatment for substance abuse at the Robert Young Center and their children, giving them an opportunity to reunite with their families. The center, when it opens next year, will provide recovering addicts job placement, parenting education, counseling, and substance-abuse treatment with the goal of returning families to independent living within six months.

The Douglas Park Place recovery home will be the first of its kind in this area. Although there are other recovery homes in the Quad Cities (including the Country Oaks Center for Alcohol & Drug Services in Davenport and Carl Stutsman Lodge in East Moline), this project will be the first to provide housing and continuing treatment exclusively for recovering mothers and their children.

"I've seen quite a few mothers who got addicted to drugs and alcohol, and it pretty much tore the family apart," said Rock Island Alderman Terry Brooks. "The mothers lost their kids, and it has always been an uphill battle, as far as getting them back. The problem is that once these ladies are released [from treatment], they're released right back in the communities where they became addicted."


Keeping the Family Intact

The $2-million project began as a collaboration between Brooks and Carrol in 2003.

Carrol was babysitting the child of a crack-addicted mother who had not returned to pick up her child after a few days. Brooks (a longtime friend of Carrol) stopped by to pay a visit; he soon realized that the mother of the child was a former "A" student that he had taught at the Thurgood Marshall Learning Center in Rock Island.

Carrol and Brooks decided to try to develop a home for mothers who have completed a substance-abuse program. The goal was to give them an opportunity to be reunited with their children while receiving counseling, training, and ongoing substance-abuse treatment to help get their lives back on track.

With the help of Brian Hollenback, executive director of the Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation (who played a key role in gathering funding), construction is underway, and Douglas Park Place is scheduled to open in October 2007.

The project's site was donated by Blackhawk State Bank and is the location of the former Angel's Salsa building. The Illinois Housing Development Authority awarded the project nearly $1.8 million from its Housing Trust Fund. The City of Rock Island is providing $115,000 as a grant. Other financing is coming from National City Bank Community Development Corporation, the Doris & Victor Day Foundation, and the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity.

The building will feature eight two- or three-bedroom units, each with two bathrooms, ranging from $300 to $400 a month; each tenant will be responsible for monthly rent (which will cover the building's maintenance costs) and utilities. The facility will also include a community room, an outdoor fountain, an electronic security system, a playground, and a basketball court.

Community Housing Solutions (a subsidiary of the Rock Island Housing Authority) will own the property, and the Rock Island Housing Authority will manage the apartments. All residential programs will be overseen by the Robert Young Center (and funded by private charitable organizations), and a staff member will live on-site and be available for counseling 24 hours a day, along with providing training in areas such as parenting and budgeting. Other services will be provided by the Martin Luther King Center (across the street) and area churches.

The project was modeled after the Women's Treatment Center in Chicago, which, like Douglas Park Place, was established in response to the lack of services available to mothers with substance-abuse problems. Since 1990, the Women's Treatment Center has provided drug and alcohol treatment and temporary housing for Chicago-area mothers and their children, as well as other medical services, child care, and family counseling. Anita Flores, development director of the Women's Treatment Center, said that 70 percent of the center's clients complete a treatment program.

"Women's recovery issues are very different than men's," said the Robert Young Center's Joan Hartman, who estimated that three-fifths of the women who receive treatment at Robert Young have children. "We do run into women whose addiction has gotten to the point where it's more important than their own children and lives. And some choose not to enter recovery and choose to lose their children. It's difficult to watch."

Each year the Robert Young Center provides substance-abuse treatment services to more than 100 individuals referred from the Department of Child & Family Services (DCFS). According to a 1999 DCFS assessment study, nearly half of parents involved with the agency need substance-abuse treatment.

"Our goal is to keep the family intact and to work with DCFS [and other agencies] that may be involved with the patient, to get their kids with them and make sure that they have the support that they need and that the women are able to maintain periods of recovery, sobriety, and clean time," Hartman said. "We've had a wonderful relationship with DCFS. ... Our goal and their goal has been to keep families together by helping Mom get clean and sober."

A 2005 study by DePaul University concluded that recovering addicts living in recovery homes had higher success rates than those living elsewhere. At the end of a two-year period, 65 percent of the participants in the study who were staying in a recovery home had refrained from substance use, compared to the 31 percent of participants who found shelter elsewhere. The study also concluded that recovery-home residents had higher monthly incomes and lower incarceration rates.

"One of the biggest relapse factors for many people is getting out of treatment and hanging around the same people they were hanging around when they were using," Hartman said. "This puts pressure on them, because there is a period where you continue to crave."


A Personal Story

Carrol knows all too well how damaging "old friends" can be to the recovery process.

She moved to Rock Island from Chicago in 1987, a few years after the death of her first-born son (who died after receiving the wrong medicine at a Chicago-area hospital). Carrol said that despite receiving a court settlement for $250,000 for her son's death, she was depressed when she moved to the Quad Cities and became addicted to crack in 1989, after being turned on to the drug by a friend who was dealing at the time.

"I knew it happened to other people," Carrol said of addiction. "But I was one of those ‘A' students. I was too strong, I was a God-fearing woman. It couldn't happen to me."

But it did. Ametra spent the next 10 years battling an addiction that drained all of her money, ruined her marriage, hurt her relationship with her children, and almost took her life.

"I started chasing that high from '89 until '99," Carrol said, "walking the streets, day and night, lying, cheating, stealing, doing whatever I could do 'cause I was still waiting for that same feeling. And I could never find it."

In 1995, Ametra was taken to Chicago by her youngest son to get clean. After she completed a 28-day program, she entered an additional three-month program at the Women's Treatment Center, where she learned a variety of recovery tools.

But not long after she returned to Rock Island, Ametra relapsed.

"I wanted to show off how good I was looking. I was clean," she said. "I thought, ‘If I hadn't done it [crack] in four months, I could be around them.' These were my friends; I wanted to see if they were okay. I wanted to tell them about the treatment center. And so I got around them and it was like, ‘Girl, we don't wanna hear that shit!' And they were getting high and offered me a hit, and I relapsed."

Carrol continued to use until September 3, 1999, when she overdosed and flat-lined. Doctors revived her, but they told her, "One more hit and you're dead."

"I started thinking about my obituary," she said. "And I didn't want my grandkids to say, ‘She died a drug addict.'"

Carrol has been clean for seven years now. She believes that surviving her overdose was nothing short of divine intervention. "I said, ‘God, if you help me this time, I'll never get high again. I will be active in the community, I will help other mothers, I will help children,'" she said.

Today Carrol is involved in a number of community projects. She founded the HOPE Youth of Longview; petitioned and worked with the city council, the county board, the school board, and State Representative Mike Boland to raise the dropout age from 16 to 17 in Illinois; and most recently helped the Douglas Park Place recovery home come to life.


Responding to Criticism

Douglas Park Place has not been without criticism.

Some critics have questioned putting the home in the Old Chicago neighborhood, which has been plagued by drugs, violence, and gang activity for many years. Others feel that substance abusers are undeserving of receiving any publicly funded support or treatment.

"Please let's not waste another red cent on a person who chooses to abuse and destroy their body and life," said one commenter on the Quad-City Times Web site. "Everyone has a choice in life"

Another commenter wrote: "In five years that housing complex will be swimming in drugs and be on its way to becoming the next Arsenal Courts."

"I think that people who are ignorant about addiction as a physical and medical illness make comments because they don't know better," Hartman said. "The government has spent time and money looking into addiction, and it's been proven quite a bit medically that it is a physical disease. ... I could make the same criticism for people with heart disease and talk about their lack of exercise and bad eating habits. It's the same concept."

Hartman also explained that drug and alcohol use by patients staying at Douglas Park Place will not be tolerated. "The recovery-home manager will be trained in relapse prevention ... and will be able to tell the signs and symptoms," she said.

Patients who relapse will not automatically be discharged, though. "It's going to depend on the patient and where they're at as far as their willingness to work through the relapse, to stop using, and continue on," she said. She added that patients who don't have a desire to stop using will not be able to stay at the facility.

As for the location, Hollenback urged patience. "We've been investing in that neighborhood," he said. "It is a transition, and it is not going to happen overnight."

He added that "the community came together within that neighborhood. ... From the design to its location, it was all part of the community process."

He also said that money spent at Douglas Park Place will save taxpayers money over time. "It's always proper to make a good investment in helping someone change the path that they've taken," he said. "If you compare the investment from that perspective, as opposed to what it costs us to incarcerate people on an ongoing basis, I think you'd find that in the long run it would be a substantial savings to taxpayers."

One potential issue for Douglas Park Place is that it doesn't have measurable goals in terms of the percentage of participants who stay clean over a certain period of time.

"How many of them will turn their lives around? I can't answer that," Brooks said. "We have a lot of ill people, a lot of people who are sick on one drug or another. ... But I also know there's a lot of people who would love to have an opportunity to straighten their lives out and have an opportunity to bring their families back together. ... If we get half or any percentage a year, then we're doing something productive."

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