Last week, we visited Fort Lyon, a treatment program for formerly homeless addicts and alcoholics in Colorado. Fort Lyon’s rather unique approach centers on keeping this population away from urban centers in a relatively remote location. One in four people living on the street say they have had chronic problems with drugs and alcohol.
Readers shared their own stories with us about the struggles of alcoholism and drug addiction, and how easily these addictions can lead to homelessness. We’ve compiled some of these responses below. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
George Matthew Farrand, 45, law student at University of the Pacific in Sacramento, Calif.
My experience has been a long and hard-fought one. It’s taken me over 10 years to finally feel like I can beat this disease of mine. I suffer from alcoholism.
I have been successfully graduated [from]:
Four to 28-day 12-step focused rehab programs.
One to six-month 12-step focused rehab program.
One to four-month non-12-step focused rehab.
One to four-month outpatient program.
I think that the program in the article is great. I really believe that for some people you need to separate them from their surroundings. But, rehab is not a “one size fits all” approach.
Believe me, I wish I had understood the program and really wanted it deep down in my first rehab stint in 2004. But for some reason that was not in God’s plan.
Today I feel blessed, I attend church and AA semi-regularly. For me, I have just had enough of beating myself up. Drinking has created lots problems in the past that I will be recovering from.
I had a relapse in December, but have been clean and sober since. And, I am attending law school next week at the good old age of 45.
Anonymous, 24, gas station attendant in New Haven, Connecticut
The first time I went to treatment was at a “resort” rehab in Nevada. My parents paid the very expensive co-pay and I went through 28 days of rehab. Upon discharge, I returned home with my parents for the first time in years and immediately relapsed on heroin after five days on the outside. I then returned to a DOC [Department of Corrections] treatment center in New York state for two weeks. I remained clean and sober for six months upon release, with the help of sober living and NA [Narcotics Anonymous] meetings.
I lived on the streets of Los Angeles after losing my apartment over a drug-related incident. I was homeless for two years, getting progressively worse. I went from staying with friends, to staying in my car, to sleeping on the beach — all within six months. All because I spent all of my money on heroin and crystal meth.
I wish there was a place like [Fort Lyon] that I could go to on the East Coast. This place sounds like a safe haven for many addicts who feel hopeless, like there is no way to go. Most addicts can’t get help because they can’t even go into detox due to financial difficulties. Even with health insurance, the copay of a detox is $500 to $900 dollars for only five days of treatment.
Audra White-van Mierlo, 37, executive assistant in The Hague, Holland
The strength is within the community of other addicts, regardless of their drug of choice.
I sobered up in Denver 10 years ago for the first time. Relapsed two years ago as I believed I was fully “recovered.” Back in the program now, though living abroad in The Netherlands and working it in an English setting. This after a unforeseen stint of rehab outside of Wichita, Kans. earlier this year. Now I’m with 120 days of sobriety, though using this term loosely, as I still suffer from eating disorders and overall a strong addictive personality. I have always been a high-functioning addict and never found myself homeless. My bottoms were relatively higher than others. Though mental illness is hard to live with, no matter the consequences of our addictions.
I would like to see the follow-up in this article. If this foundation can prove itself sustainable, as well as their future numbers of reported success stories. In the end, it’s always up to the person to maintain their sobriety. This place could be seen as a haven, therefore allowing respite for many people who are addicted to receiving help, but not accountable to putting in their own efforts.
Peter Reibold, psychology instructor in Weston, Fla.
A halfway house in Ft Lauderdale called Primary Purpose. Zero tolerance and a four-phase program based on the AA model. Mandatory meetings every day and $160 per week rent. They gave you a four-week grace period to start paying rent. All the men worked and were supportive and helpful. Those in phase 4 helped govern and mentor the newer or younger guys. I stayed for 16 months. It was hard, awful, atrocious. Nasty, urban ghetto apartments. But I learned some good things.
I had lived in the outback of Australia on a scientific expedition in the 1980s, so, being homeless was relatively easy, from a technical perspective. What was harder was the constant guilt and shame that one never escapes. I felt like a failure and a disappointment, when, a few years earlier, I had been an honoree of the NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities]. I couldn’t believe what had happened. My life was like Hiroshima.
Hearing about how we, as a nation, are dealing with addiction is very interesting. On a macro-level, the Reagan approach of emptying institutions and building jails defies logic. Whether this is a medical condition or not may be debated by smarter people than me. What can’t be debated is that certain sectors of society make regaining one’s prior position in society difficult, if not impossible.
Christine Lombardo, 31, housing program case manager in New Bedford, Mass.
I’m 31 years old and I work as a case manager for a housing program targeted to families where the head of household has a history of substance abuse. I went through the Steppingstone Women’s Program in February of 2006 and have been in recovery since. It’s great that the Post is shining light on this public health epidemic. Addicts are humans that need help and people have no idea that it can affect anyone.
I thought I was too smart to get strung out. I was wrong.
If you’ve been affected by homelessness or addiction and have a story to share, fill out the form below. We’ll call or email to verify a few things, and then we may publish your response alongside these other readers’ stories.