Halfway Houses Reeling From Cuts

End Of All State Aid Leaves Drug-, Alcohol-abuse Centers With Few Options

October 25, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Arthur Hirsch | JoAnna Daemmrich and Arthur Hirsch,Staff writers

Larry Canada struggled for the words, trying to find some way to describe how it was when he hit bottom after 25 years of heroin, alcoholand cocaine. He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and tipped his baseball cap back, then sighed and fell silent.

"That ---- makes me sweat when I think about it," said Canada, a 37-year-old in treatmentat Damascus House in Brooklyn Park. "You're lost -- despair."

For the first time in his life, he thought of killing himself. Instead, he entered a 28-day detoxification program at Fort Howard Hospital in Baltimore. In August, he came to Damascus House, planning to remain for the full six- to nine-month counseling program.

Now, he's not sure. Yesterday, no one was sure of anything at Damascus House.

Like 23 other halfway houses and live-in treatment centers in Maryland, Damascus House's budget will be cut sharply Dec. 31. Faced with a $7 million slash in its budget for alcohol and drug treatment, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is eliminating all aid to long-term programs. Department spokesman Michael Golden predicted many will have to close.

"I don't know," Canada said, asked where he'd go if the place closed. "I will stay sober, I believe. Where I'll live, I don't know."

Damascus House -- which serves 17, sometimes 18 clients -- is one of four publicly supported programs in AnneArundel County. Also hit with cuts are Raft House in Crownsville, Samaritan House in Annapolis and Chrysalis House in Pasadena.

Most of the private, non-profit programs rely on the state for the lion's share of their budgets. The county's four centers hope to make up the difference with private donations and county aid, but some have to raise as much as $300,000.

County Executive Robert R. Neall has promised to restore some of the money to keep the programs going. He's expected to announce the details at a news conference this afternoon.

Carroll Matanoski, director of Damascus House, said he got the official word in a letter yesterday: The state would cut all $52,000 it had allotted, nearly a third of his entire year's budget.

"We're trying to work something out now to see how we can exist without the $52,000," he said. To stretch the budget, the board is considering reducing the program to three months and plans to drop the salaries for two full-time positions -- counselor and house manager -- Nov. 15. Themen who hold those two jobs, one a recovering alcoholic, the other recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, have agreed to remain as volunteers to keep the program alive.

"You got to give something back," said counselor Pete Brandon, a 14-year recovering alcoholic who has also worked at Raft House and Samaritan House.

"I accept losing my job," said John O'Donnell, house manager at Damascus. "It's these people here, they aren't ready" to leave the program. O'Donnell, 53, said he spent 30 years shuttling in and out of jail and psychiatricwards because of drugs and alcohol. He entered detox, then Raft House two years ago and then took the job he holds now at Damascus House.

At Chrysalis House in Pasadena, the 25-member board of directors also was digging in yesterday against the budget cuts. They pledged to keep the doors open to addicted women, especially the pregnant women who can't find help at other programs.

"We're committed to raising whatever money we have to," board President Carole Baker said.

Even though they had been bracing for the worst, directors and counselors at area halfway houses were stunned by the news. They spoke angrily about wasted money and sadly about lost chances.

"I don't knowwhat's going to happen to our people," said Arch Edington, director of the 43-bed Raft House. "I guess they'll just be out on the street."

Like Raft House, the other long-term programs in the county offer help to more hardened, streetwise addicts. Many of the men and women at halfway houses have tried to kick their drug habits in self-helpgroups or 28-day programs. Often, they've lived on the streets for years, dealing drugs and working as prostitutes.

Matanoski said thestate may save money now -- only to spend it later housing convicts.

It costs only $20 a day to treat each client at Damascus House, afifth the price of keeping a prisoner in jail, he said. Other program directors, citing the same financial argument, said it will cost taxpayers much more to send addicts back to jail.

The closings also will swell the already long waiting lists at the county's two short-term programs. Hope House in Crownsville only has 20 beds. The Anne Arundel branch of Second Genesis, also in Crownsville, has 126 beds butexpects to be flooded with applications from the branches in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

A longer wait could force many addicts back on the streets, even if they want help. After detox, mostare still so shaky that they can easily fall back into drinking and using drugs.

People with long histories of alcoholism, intravenousdrug use and battered self-esteem need extended, intensive care to recover, counselors said. Most don't have insurance. Without public programs, they have little hope of turning their lives around.

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