The way of recovery in the small group of buildings on 52nd The street in South Los Angeles begins deep in stone, winds through courthouses and prisons, and through the Rings of Hell.
Women of all ages arrive damaged, mind broken, having lost everything. They have no job, no housing, no family support and no solid reason to believe anything will ever change.
Valerie, 39, told me that she was molested throughout her childhood by a stepfather, ran away as a teenager, and was raped and beaten during years of homelessness.
Jasmin, 27, said she was dominated by a boyfriend who used her as a punching bag, broke her nose and pushed her past a moving vehicle. She eventually ran for her life one day when the bully was out of the house and begged a stranger to help her get her to safety.
La Donna, 58, said her father whipped her with a belt and beat her mother so badly that he broke her jaw. As an adult, La Donna ended up with a man who specialized in mental abuse. He laughed at her and repeatedly called her a dummy. “Oh, I hated that word,” La Donna says.
Valérie, Jasmin and La Donna have different stories but two things in common.
They became homeless and they became addicted, La Donna to crack, Valérie and Jasmin to methamphetamine. Drugs ease the pain of the past, make it easier to deal with the present, and help make the lack of hope for a better future more tolerable. And that is the story of nearly every woman in this residential rehabilitation home at Wesley Health Center.
“They all come from poverty, lack of education and jobs, generational trauma,” said Nora O’Connor, director of behavioral health programs.
It is a place where women come straight out of prison, with rehabilitation as a condition of their release. Or they enter the program because a child has been taken out of custody and drug treatment is part of their treatment plan. The general length of stay is 60 to 120 days, followed by 180 days in what is called short-term accommodation. Wesley, who is part of the JWCH Institute, contracts with LA County and bills Medi-Cal and MyHealthLA.
O’Connor has worked in rehab for 25 years, with stays on Skid Row, Tenderloin in San Francisco, and in an upscale private program in Malibu. For the latter’s clients, she said, “the main difference is having the resources and the money to not end up in jail and to hide the problem for longer.”
There is no such luxury for her clients in Wesley, where stories remind us that in LA County’s homeless population of around 60,000 people, poverty, addiction and mental illness are often the order of the day. linked. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a Yale graduate and Wall Street banker who lost everything and became homeless for six years, with a crippling methamphetamine addiction. He’s now sober and housed, and I’m still trying to find out more about how people become addicted and how they recover.
There is a lot of outpatient counseling available in Los Angeles, but it is a delicate proposition for homeless clients who cannot escape the causes or temptations of drug use. Residential treatment, for many, represents the best chance of beating drugs.
“When they first arrive, it’s about boosting their self-esteem,” O’Connor said.
For many women, some of whom have let go, it is difficult to get involved in the beginning. When you walk through the door, you go from a life without rules to a life with nothing else. You have to put your phone back on, you’re out of bed at 6 a.m., your day is filled with structured drug and mental health activity and counseling, and it’s off at 10:15 p.m.
Some leave and never come back. Some take a mad rush at first, then end up asking to go home. And many women are successful and begin the hard work of rebuilding their lives. That final part takes them straight back to some of the very things that sent them down their spiral in the first place – the dire shortage of affordable housing and well-paying, low-skilled jobs in Los Angeles.
Gary Tsai, director of addiction prevention and control for LA County, said that on paper, residential treatment slots are still available. But not necessarily in the places where they’re needed at any given time, and he’s working to develop a more flexible and accommodating system. Given the abundant population of dependent homeless people, he said, more beds would help.
But methamphetamine addiction is particularly difficult to treat, Tsai said. The drug is inexpensive and produces a huge release of dopamine, making it an effect that can last for a day or more. Tsai said there is currently no reliable substitution therapy like drug treatments available for opiates. The protocol is therefore behavioral therapy and counseling.
But the vast majority of drug addicts don’t want or think they need treatment, Tsai said.
“The 90% of people who don’t want it but need it are the ones we need to reach,” he said.
One way to do this is to strengthen awareness and case management. Another way may be to open secure use sites, which I mentioned in a recent column. SB 57 is a legislative proposal that borrows from safe-use overdose prevention models in parts of Europe, where drug addiction is treated as a public health crisis rather than a criminal problem. Clients can use in a supervised setting and be linked to counseling and rehabilitation services.
La Donna, who argued while using methamphetamine and spent a month in jail, where she was diagnosed with a mental illness, told me she liked the idea of safe use. .
“If you could offer a recovery program instead of jail,” she says, at least that would put you on the right track. “But first you have to be prepared to go to a place like this.
When she got to Wesley, La Donna wasn’t betting on herself. She called her attitude “mean” and she wasn’t even convinced that she was an addict. But she has now completed four months in the residential program and rehired for a longer stay.
“I don’t want drugs anymore now that I’m behind these walls,” La Donna said. “But I don’t feel strong enough to go yet.”
Jasmin got pregnant while homeless, but her baby was born with methamphetamine and marijuana in her system and was taken out of custody. She arrived in Wesley last June, spent six months in the residential program, and registered five more in bridging housing. Her child, Destiny, now lives with her and is her motivation to stay clean. Jasmin told me that she hasn’t felt so good in years.
“I love being a mom. I enjoy every minute, waking up next to her and being with her for whatever she does, ”said Jasmin as she hugged her cooing baby, who had just taken her first steps several days ago. “I had no love, no attention, no support. I want her to have everything I didn’t have.
Valérie has her own success story to tell. Her child was also taken out of custody. When the child was sent to live in the same house where Valerie had been abused as a child, Valerie said, she told the judge that it was not a question of whether she was going to get her child back, but when . She took the residential program and has moved on to a sober life and now has custody of her child.
Valerie was wearing a short-sleeved shirt when I spoke to her, revealing scales of deep scars on both arms. She said they had been there since the time she was assaulted.
“I used to cut myself to feel this,” she said, “instead of the pain of what I was going through.”
Methamphetamine also helped. For a certain time.
“I lived in fear,” she said of her years on the streets, and meth kept her awake at night to avoid attacks. “I had an instant feeling of euphoria. The only feeling I would have would be happiness.
Valerie said she was diagnosed with manic depression and had nightmares in which her child was taken again. She wakes up from these re-engaged dreams for her recovery.
We usually associate addiction with weakness. But speaking to these women, I only saw strength. The strength to survive what they’ve been through and believe they can move on to something better.
For women who arrive at the recovery house, doubting that they will ever be able to completely break away from drugs and despair, an employee named Natividad Diaz is a beacon of hope. Diaz, who helps women find permanent housing after completing the program, was a client herself after 25 years of drug addiction and homelessness. Diaz told me she was assaulted and raped, spent time in jail and jail, failed several drug rehab attempts, and then something clicked.
“I was dying when I got here,” Diaz said, but she was finally ready to be as good in recovery as she had been pushing herself around.
She now lives in a rented house, is looking to buy and is raising her three children on her own.
“I wanted to be normal. I didn’t want to be up all night tweaking and doing my job, ”Diaz said.
There is hope.