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New Addiction Center Promises Better Model

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In 1998, the U.S. Department of Health named the original Healing Place and Human Services the No. 1 "Model that Works" in the successful treatment of homeless people with substance-abuse addictions. It boasts a 65-percent recovery rate, costs about $18 per day per person, and has been copied in five other large cities.

Interest in establishing a version of The Healing Place here dates to 1995, Christin says, when Richmond activists and then-Mayor Tim Kaine separately toured the Louisville center and liked what they saw.

The Healing Place now has the backing of one of Richmond's most prominent civic activists, ex-Ukrop's CEO Jim Ukrop, and the board has raised about $150,000 to support its fund-raising efforts. Christin says $3 million to $4 million is needed to establish the center, but operating costs will be minimal.

Christin, a former businessman and export consultant, became the executive director in January 2002. He has little experience in social services, he says, but for years has been in recovery himself through AA — which is what The Healing Place is all about.

When the addicted come to a Healing Place, Christin says, they find a community directed not by doctors or social workers, but by their peers — addicts in recovery. (Staff from Louisville will help start the process in Richmond.) There's no pill you can take to erase an addiction, he says: "The cure that works is to help others who also suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction."

The Healing Place serves as an alternative to jail or a hospital when the police pick up a homeless addict. The Louisville center says its recovery program saves local government about $3 million annually in emergency-room visits and jail costs. "If they're clearly not in medical distress," Christin says, "and you're tired of arresting these people, bring 'em here."

Where "here" is has not been determined, however. Christin says the board is considering an empty building on Commerce Road near the Philip Morris plant. Councilwoman Reva Trammell supports the location, but neighbors and City Council will have to agree before the group can get a permit.

— M.S.S.

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