A New Road to Recovery

Drop Inn Center tries peer-based approach

Tim Britton has practiced the same daily routine for the last month on his path to recovery at the Drop Inn Center downtown, the largest homeless shelter in Cincinnati.

As one of nine current residents of the clinical recovery program, Tim wakes up each morning at 6 a.m., serves three meals a day alongside his recovery peers and takes part in a variety of group sessions, ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to guided meditation and writing workshops.

He recently graduated from the recovery program, clenching five and a half months of sobriety, and now has plans to move into his own apartment in Mount Auburn after a 20-year history of hard alcoholism.

“I came in here kind of at gunpoint from my parole officer and I was resentful of that, but that feeling left after a month or so,” Britton says. “I realized that these people are actually trying to save my life, so I really have nothing to complain about.”

As his residency at the Drop Inn Center comes to a close, Britton reflects on the experience in a positive light, believing that the clinical recovery program has helped him get back on track.

“It was worth me coming here. It changed my attitude about a lot of stuff. I didn’t think I needed help, but I sat back here and realized that’s what these people are here for,” Britton says.

The people Britton is referring to are counselors currently staffed by the Drop Inn Center who specialize in chemical dependency, some of whom are students at the University of Cincinnati working for college credit.

But despite their proven success with recovering alcoholics, like Britton, these staff members will no longer exist at the Drop Inn Center, nor will the clinical recovery program, beginning on June 30.

The administrative decision to eliminate the clinical recovery program is in part due to limited funding, according to Pat Clifford, executive director of the Drop Inn Center (pictured above). He reports that the organization will replace the clinical recovery program with a peer-based recovery approach.

“Looking at our budget was the initial motivation for the changes, but in the end it caused us to look at a variety of different models,” Clifford says. “This peer-based approach seems to be the best way of moving forward.”

Currently, there are 18 beds on the second floor of the Drop Inn Center, which serves as a residential sector for recovering alcoholics and narcotics users to stay and receive rehabilitative treatment from trained professionals staffed by the shelter, which operates as a nonprofit organization.

“Our residential recovery program is a great program and a great opportunity for the 18 guys that were there, but it utilized a lot of resources and we had to use donations to keep the program functioning at full speed,” Clifford says.

“The peer-based recovery approach is not only to create recovery inside the shelter as a whole, but it also leverages volunteerism and goodwill in the recovery community at large. It’s more bang for your buck.”

Clifford explains that staff members in the clinical recovery program will be replaced in part by volunteers who qualify as recovery coaches.

“Recovery coaches are the whole framework for peer recovery, which is a model being adopted across the country,” he says. “They have different qualifications from clinical coaches, but it’s the same type of one-on-one experience. Peer-based recovery is much more focused on outreach, engagement, encouragement, anything we can do to support someone’s journey into recovery.”

The ultimate goal is to eventually “phase out” the residential recovery program altogether so that 24-hour staffing will no longer be necessary and limited funds can be redistributed elsewhere in the Drop Inn Center, most notably the 220-bed emergency shelter that sleeps more than 300 men and women each night during the winter.

In essence, the decision to take a peer-based approach is in the interest of a wider, more inclusive audience.

“I think the peer-based recovery approach will have just as significant of an impact on residents as the current methods of recovery because instead of just targeting the 18 current residents, it focuses our attention on the entire shelter,” Clifford says.

The upcoming changes have sparked concern among some current residents, including Britton, who supports the peer-based recovery approach but doubts that the program will be as effective without staff members.

“I don’t want to say anything bad about a peer-based program, but I don’t know how well it will work,” Britton says. “We have staff and students that are guiding us and if they’re not here, what are these guys going to do?” The phasing out of the residential component will be gradual, Clifford reports, and no one will be left without resources for recovery.

“It is kind of a bummer that they are put in this position,” Britton says. “But if they didn’t want a recovery program, I imagine they would do away with it altogether. I still think they’re looking out for the greater good.”

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