HUNTINGTON -- About six years ago, a group of people interested in reducing alcohol and drug abuse suffering bought the old Lincoln Elementary School, carved up some meeting spaces, put in bunk beds and refitted the kitchen. Now it's called The Healing Place, a name and concept copied from a project in Louisville, Ky.
I went in a week ago, expecting the usual checklist of treatment center features -- counselors, a supervising physician, housekeeping staff, maybe some empathetic looking professionals carrying clipboards.
No, said Bob Hansen, the retired executive director of Prestera Community Mental Health Center and a founding board member of this nonprofit.
He shook his head. There is no medical staff here. The place is for addiction of any kind, but if someone also has a psychiatric problem that responds well to medicine and requires monitoring, this may not be the best place for him.
"This is a unique approach," said Matt Boggs, development associate for The Healing Place. "People who go through the program give back to the people who come in."
That means the people who are working on their own addiction problems are the ones who wash clothes, scrub floors and tend the significant vegetable garden. They even cook the meals. Everyone takes a food-handler's course and gets a license. Their real strength: peer-to-peer counseling.
That peer counselor knows how the new guy lying in the detox bed, maybe homeless, jobless and sick, is feeling, because he was there. And the counselor can say that to the new guy, and it helps, Boggs said.
That doesn't happen overnight, of course. When men first arrive -- it's men only for now -- they have little freedom and few duties other than detoxifying. They get clean clothes if they need them, and they trudge off to class every day, about a mile's walk each way, rain or shine. There they learn about alcohol and drugs, history and biology. The walk offers healthy, cleansing exercise, as well as discipline. Unlike many rehab centers, the men are never really sealed off from a community of temptations, Boggs said. They may walk past old haunts or connections.
As they move through the program over months, they gain more freedom, privacy and trust among their fellows, who hold them accountable for their actions. They move to a different room and take on more responsibilities.