New Life Evangelical Baptist Church anchors the 2400 block of E. North Ave. in the midst of a community battered by drugs and drug-related crime.
New Life's pastor, the Rev. Milton Williams, once saw a man stick a gun to a woman's head and demand her pocketbook. Addicts sell stolen goods at street corners, he says.
Six times in six months the battery was stolen out of the church's van; now the battery is removed when the van is parked.
"It's to the extent where we have to leave deacons at the door of our church during services to let those passing by know we're protecting ourselves," Williams says.
Williams is hoping that a new mobile drug-treatment program, scheduled to begin this summer, will improve the neighborhood.
The program will be administered from four vehicles that will be driven daily to selected communities in East and West Baltimore. Nurses, counselors and other staff will provide drug treatment to 200 addicts and general health services to other community residents.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is providing $5 million over five years to fund what may be the only program of its kind in the nation. The private, non-profit Institutes for Behavior Resources Inc., based at Francis Scott Key Medical Center, will run the program in collaboration with the City Health Department.
Service is expected to begin about Aug. 1, says Jim Dorsey, a Behavior Resources employee who is setting up the program.
"I have gotten tremendous support from everybody, from the mayor's office on down," Dorsey says, listing the police commissioner, City Council members and community groups as supporters. "We know that treatment reduces crime and we know that we can reduce AIDS."
The AIDS virus can be transmitted by needles shared by addicts. The rising incidence of such AIDS cases is one reason the program should appeal to communities where drug abuse is rampant.
"They're attempting to bring the services that are needed to the community itself," says Williams. "We're hoping that it's going to be a little bit more accessible to these young men, people, who are just hooked on these drugs."
Williams says that by providing drug treatment the program also will help reduce the crime committed by neighborhood drug users and sellers.
Dorsey and Thomas Davis, director of the city Health Department's substance-abuse bureau, say the mobile approach to services is intended to alleviate community concerns about treatment programs as well as make treatment easier to obtain.
Communities sometimes oppose the placement of drug programs in their areas for fear of attracting drug users.
The program vehicles will arrive in the morning and leave in the evening, to be stored overnight at Francis Scott Key Medical Center. Two motorized mobile homes will provide methadone to heroin users and two trailers will offer drug counseling and general health services.
One pair of vehicles, a mobile home and a trailer, will be in the 2nd Councilmanic District, and the other pair will be placed in the 4th District. Although exact sites are yet to be determined, the vehicles will serve residents of ZIP codes 21215, 21216 and 21217 on the west side, and 21202, 21213 and 21218 on the east side of Baltimore, Dorsey says.
Williams says he has offered the church's parking lot as a site.
To make the program more palatable to communities, it will serve only drug users who live in those communities. Another attraction is the offering of general health services, such as blood-pressure testing, to all residents.
Drug users who want to be treated through the program will be screened at the Addict Referral and Counseling Center on West 25th Street, where Dorsey's staff has set up an office. The PTC program will accept only people who have not been able to get into existing treatment programs, for which there are waiting lists.
Dorsey expects that 60 percent of the drug users accepted for treatment will be heroin addicts. Drug-free treatment as well as methadone will be offered, he says.
Richard H. Lane, who runs the city-based Man Alive methadone program for heroin addicts, says the mobile program should be a useful addition to existing services.
"There's certainly not enough treatment available," he says. "There are a lot of people not being reached. The information on the street is you can't get into treatment because there aren't enough treatment slots, so I think a lot of people give up and don't even try."
Dorsey says that, if the mobile program succeeds, it could be duplicated elsewhere. "It can be a model for the nation," he says.