Vault holds riches of hope Office: Equitable Trust's former downtown vault now is an important stop on the road to recovery for those coming to Health Care for the Homeless.

July 09, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

A photograph in yesterday's Maryland section showing the door of a bank vault now used as an office at Health Care for the Homeless was inadvertently reversed.

The Sun regrets the errors.

When Louise Treherne leads recovering drug and alcohol abusers to her basement office at Health Care for the Homeless, faces drop.

Treherne passes an open 18-ton, 18-inch-thick rectangular door and enters a steel-walled space, 22 feet by 13 feet.

"Does the door close?" clients ask.

Over the years, Equitable Trust Co. kept millions of dollars in cash and customers kept valuables in safe deposit boxes nestled against the 18-inch-thick walls.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Now, the vault is home for Treherne's desk and a round table for therapy sessions, and clients are told they are considered more valuable than the former bank's contents.

Visitors such as then-Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and actors Kyle Secor and Richard Belzer of TV's "Homicide" have been as intrigued as the addicts when they toured the building at 111 Park Ave.

Treherne, a social worker, uses the vault as her "What now?" room because at least 75 percent of the 7,500 annual HCH clients looking for health care are trying to find their way while battling drug or alcohol addiction.

"They're in pain," Treherne says. "They may also be HIV-positive, have mental problems and live on the street.

"When they come to the basement, it means they know they're facing their addiction problem," Treherne says. "Once in the room, they look around and think they're not good enough to be here. But we say this is a safe place. It serves as a good metaphor, a neat clinical tool."

And the door is fixed so it can't shut tight and lock.

Just as well, says Ron Brunt, regional installation supervisor for the 131-year-old Mosler Safe Co.

"A few years ago, we had to drill a vault open at another health care provider in Baltimore," Brunt recalls. "They were using it for computer storage. A company was laying carpet and closed the vault door for the carpet. It locked shut. A hole was drilled from a vault below so a man could go in to open it."

Brunt says older safes, such as the one at the Equitable branch, had emergency ventilators in case someone got trapped inside and an emergency access point to allow someone legitimate to wiggle inside for repairs.

Newer bank vaults are modular and can be moved elsewhere. But the older vaults are often too expensive to dismantle, says Brunt, a 20-year employee of Mosler Safe.

Instead, former bank vaults live on as offices and storage places in Florida, Kentucky, Connecticut and Ohio. The old Federal Reserve Bank in Cincinnati is a restaurant where patrons dine in "The Vault."

In the HCH vault, recovering drug abusers find an atmosphere DTC conducive to relaxing, Treherne says. They gather around a large table in groups of 10 for "self-esteem" sessions.

Treherne credits Suzette Tucker, an addictions counselor, and others on her staff with making the process work.

Clients sometimes attack problems indirectly.

"You ask them to do something they haven't as a kid, such as draw pictures with crayons to show the current state of their addiction, and they hem and haw, but they become real focused," says Treherne.

Crayon art covers one wall. Pictures tend to depict the goal of fighting for freedom from drugs. One man drew a path marked "On the Road Again" leading toward a mountain called "Recovery." Each week, he pastes another gold star closer to the peak.

The staff jokes about other potential uses for the vault.

"If I get too obnoxious, they say they'll lock me in," Treherne says.

And David Jones, development director, tells visitors: "Before you leave the vault, our tradition is to close the door and ask for donations."

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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