Pressured by insurance cutbacks and development, Elliot Park center's year-long program perseveres
They say R.S. Eden House is often a last resort for drug addicts.
Some who arrive at its doors at 1025 Portland Ave. come with nothing. For many of the clients, it's a last-ditch effort to sober up after repeated failures at other treatment centers. It's either Eden House or jail.
About a quarter of the addicts who arrive at Eden House graduate from the program -- a year-long commitment to undergo rigorous, in-house group therapy and an aftercare program.
For those who finish the strict treatment plan, it's an occasion to celebrate. Friends and relatives packed the Elliot Park neighborhood recreation center earlier this month to honor 11 graduates.
For Lois, mother of the graduating Quentin, the ceremony was especially meaningful. Lois, who declined to disclose her last name, went through treatment at Eden House in the early 1980s for a cocaine addiction; her son has undergone treatment to overcome an addiction to crack.
The ceremony, organized by the graduates, brought back painful memories of her own time at Eden House -- a place from which she reluctantly sought help in the early 1980s.
These days, she has a different take on the place. She credited the program with bringing back her son -- the "Q" she knew before he started using drugs. She described Quentin, now in his 30s, as a polite, emotional man. His addiction, which began in his teens, robbed him of that side, she said.
Quentin, who wore a dapper suit and hat to the ceremony, said he had been through many treatment programs. Nothing seemed to work, he said in a speech he prepared for the ceremony.
"I came to Eden House broken. My soul was gone," he said.
During treatment, he committed himself to a tenet in the house philosophy -- something he read everyday in his room. "We are dedicated to a total change in lifestyle -- not simply getting off of drugs."
Now he has a job in Eden Prairie as a researcher and lives in Uptown, his mother said.
The dramatic turnabout has inspired Lois. "I couldn't be happier that it's this program he's gone through," she said. "I was insistent on this house. It's given him back some dignity."
When Quentin accepted his certificate, he asked his mother to join him in front of the audience. He hugged and thanked her -- a gesture that brought tears to many in the audience.
Sense of place Eden House staff members expect residents to be disciplined and accountable.
Counselors assign the clients household tasks -- cooking, cleaning and general building maintenance - to instill a sense of responsibility for the community.
The 61-bed house has rooms for men and women struggling with hard-core drug addictions. The programs for men and women are kept separate.
The house sits opposite Elliot Park's new upscale Grant Park condo development -- one of the neighborhood's sharpest contrasts.
Pam Lindgren, Eden House program director, said developers sometimes approach staffers looking to buy the property. But the treatment center has been a neighborhood fixture for 30 years and has no intention of moving, she said.
Eden House, along with a half-dozen other sober, supportive houses affiliated with the program, line Portland Avenue, both in Elliot Park and the Phillips neighborhood south of Downtown.
Most long-time residents and neighborhood leaders said they consider the treatment center a good neighbor.
David Fields, community development director for the neighborhood group Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. (EPNI), said there's been no effort to push Eden House out of Elliot Park.
He said sometimes people harbor misconceptions about the treatment center, given that many of the clients have serious criminal records. But neighborhood leaders give the treatment center high marks for habilitating the residents and engaging them in the community through volunteer projects, he said.
Jim Souris, an EPNI board member who lives at the Drexler Apartments, 1009 Park Ave., offers a contrary view. He said he'd like to see the treatment center moved out of Elliot Park -- either far away or more toward the Downtown core, near the People Serving People shelter, 614 S. 3rd St.
He said he doesn't want to see criminals mixed with residents. "They shouldn't be among the citizens," he said.
Meanwhile, Millie Shafer, an EPNI board member who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said she hasn't heard of Eden House spurring any trouble.
Another neighborhood leader, Elizabeth Beissel, senior pastor at Augustana Lutheran Church, echoed Shafer, saying the treatment center maintains a largely quiet presence.
Eden House's Lindgren said the residents regularly participate in neighborhood cleanup projects and National Night Out.
"If you give these guys a chance to help, they're there in a second," she said.
Habilitation, not rehabilitation Addicts are "habilitated," not rehabilitated, counselors say, meaning many walk through the doors without the social skills that keep most people out of trouble.
Lindgren, a counselor with intense, blue eyes and a commanding voice, leads group therapy sessions. She'll get after clients who neglect to abide by the stringent rules designed to instill a sense of order in their lives.
She orders clients to sing nursery rhymes if they show up late.
Lindgren and a group of residents agreed to let a Skyway News reporter and photographer sit in on one of the sessions recently. The men shared candid, often emotional stories about their struggles to get their lives on track.
When asked to reflect on Eden House and how it compares to other drug treatment programs, they talked about feeling a sense of comradery and belonging they hadn't experienced before.
Some talked about witnessing compassion, acts of kindness committed by staff and other clients.
One man from Chicago spoke of the coincidence of meeting another client from the same neighborhood. They attended the same grammar school, but never crossed paths until now. Now they share cigarettes and clothes.
Another client talked about praying with other men after someone smuggled drugs into the house. The men flushed the drugs down the toilet despite intense cravings.
Many lauded staff for getting in their faces -- addressing the root causes of their problems. Instead of just focusing on the effects of drugs, Eden House counselors aim to get to the heart of behavioral problems that serve as an undercurrent to the drug problems.
Many said the other programs were simply too short.
"I didn't become an alcoholic overnight," one man said. "It's going to take a lot more than 28 days for me to get over this."
Most of the people who land at the treatment center come from impoverished backgrounds. About 70 percent are African American, Lindgren said. Recently, there have been Somalian clients.
While all the clients battle serious addictions, many also come in with records studded with serious crimes, such as sex offenses, robberies and domestic assaults.
For most, the drug of choice is crack. Many also come in addicted to heroin and crystal methanphetamine.
Program staff members haven't conducted extensive follow-up studies on clients since the mid-1990s. When researchers last tracked Eden House clients after they left treatment, they found about 30 percent remained sober one year later. The rest relapsed at some point during the year.
The majority of clients remained free of legal trouble, though. About 75 percent reported no run-ins with law enforcement, Cain said.
Giving back Some of the people who work at the center can directly relate to the clients' struggles.
Dan Cain, president of R.S. Eden, is a former heroin addict and convicted thief and burglar. He first stuck a needle in his arm at the age of 16.
Cain was the first person in the state to be paroled from a state prison to a community treatment program. He had been to six or seven treatment programs before arriving at Eden House.
Somehow, staff finally got through to him. He quit drugs at 23.
"When I came here, first thing I heard was, 'addicts have a need to see themselves in a light that is acceptable.' We call that denial. I was a thief and a heroin addict, but at the time I preferred to see myself like Robin Hood."
Counselors somehow managed to get Cain to drop the delusions.
"There was a pretty huge effort to make myself see myself as I was," he said. "When you're … Robin Hood, you don't have to change. When you accept the fact that you're a bum and you've basically hurt and stole from everybody that's important in life and that you've sacrificed relationships and freedom and everything else for nothing," you recognize the need to change.
After Cain left R.S. Eden House, he started a similar drug treatment program in Milwaukee. He then returned to work at Eden as a counselor while still on parole. He later chaired the state's Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
In his time at Eden House, Cain said, staff has gradually learned "to do more with less."
Stays have shortened -- a result of dwindling resources for chemical dependency programs. When the program started, most residents would stay at least a year. Now residents stay a maximum of 120 days and participate in a six-month after-care program -- a strict plan. If a client relapses once, the program starts over.
Cain said it takes a series of small steps for people to change their troubled ways.
For instance, if he spots someone stealing a cigarette out of someone's pack, he'll get after him about it.
"If I wait until somebody tells the police officer who pulls him over to 'go to hell,' and gets hauled off to jail, it's too late," he said. "We try to deal with the small things so they don't become big things."
To Lois and Quentin, it took direction and reality checks for them to muster the courage to change.
"You have to see yourself for who you are," Lois said. "You can no longer discount who've you become."
For Cain and many others at R.S. Eden House, it takes support from other people.
"If you know where you want to go, you can find a road map to get there," he said. "If you don't have a frame of reference for where you want to go, it's a little bit more difficult. Sometimes you have to be led."