Agency combats addiction with camaraderie

Baltimore Station offers treatment program that focuses on veterans

April 09, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

More than 20 years ago two neighborhood women, Jaye Burtnick and Gloria DeBarry, established a safe and warm place for the street people of the Cross Street Market area.

"Their first epiphany was that almost all the guys who came there were veterans and they had addiction issues," said Michael Seipp, executive director of what is now called the Baltimore Station, an agency that defines its mission as "a therapeutic residential recovery program for men who are homeless largely due to chronic substance abuse."

The Baltimore Station operates from two locations, one in a converted South Baltimore firehouse at 140 W. West Street and another in West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester at 1611 Baker Street. Its administrators say it houses 132 men, most of whom are veterans, who stay for up to two years. The men live in a barracks-like setting. They are regularly tested for drugs and alcohol. They also get acupuncture treatments to help control mood swings.

On Thursday, the Baltimore Station will host its 19th annual fundraiser, an evening called Homerun for Recovery. The event helps close the gap between the funds it gets from governmental sources and foundations, as well as its private donors.

Wynwood "Woody" Curry, the Station's clinical-associate director, has created a program loosely based on a military platoon system. During his two tours in Vietnam, he was wounded and recuperated at Walter Reed Hospital.

"The war changed the way I looked at things. I began drinking and abusing drugs," he said. "I straightened out if you can call it that and went on to attend the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Hygiene."

Curry used his experience in the service to re-create a military environment at the Baltimore Station. He says his program works because many of the counselors who are farther along in their own treatment process can help the new recruits.

"Addicts have a conditioned aversion to authority — be it courts, police or a doctor," said Curry. "Here the treatment is informal — you can knock on a door and see somebody at any time."

Baltimore Station's residents agree that part of the program's success is the camaraderie of facing similar challenges.

Thomas Graylin said he tried a program at another local facility but still had trouble with his addictions. "The real teaching tool comes from the experience here of learning from one another," he said.

Fellow resident Jimi Parker has advanced professional degrees, went through four marriages and is now diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.

"One of the things we learn is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable," said Parker, of Havre de Grace. "We learn this, that it's not a bad place to work through the tough times."

Parker has been through hard times before. "I spent $30,000 of my own money in a 30-day treatment program. It didn't work for me," he said. "Just being abstinent from alcohol didn't work. I had no foundation of support. Here I've learned, 'Don't think too hard. Follow directions.'"

Evan Bart worked as a carpenter and had lived in Pasadena, where he built his parents' home, but now he's resident of Baltimore Station.

"I had been in the military in Bosnia, Iraq and Kosovo," Bart said. "And now I'm here."

Curry said Baltimore Station's approach is unusual but successful.

"It's unusual for a bunch of drug addicts to create a million-dollar program, be licensed by the state and be recognized nationally," he said Curry. "Nobody knows the problem more than the people who have been through it."

The Homerun for Recovery fundraiser is at 6 p.m. Thursday at Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood, Cross Street Market, South Charles and Cross streets. The event features an all-you-can-eat raw bar with oysters, shrimp and sushi, a hot and cold buffet and wines and microbrews. Tickets are $75 at the door and $65 in advance from the Baltimore Station. Call 410-752-4454 or email homerun@baltimorestation.org.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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