Rick Deines, a conversation facilitator with The Zeidler Center for Public Discussion and a board member of Serenity Inns, writes that it’s time for Milwaukee to address the growing problem of drug abuse.
Drug abuse destroys individual lives and rips apart families and neighborhoods. It feeds parasites in the drug trade. By most any measure it is a sickness. The prison population is deeply affected. Addiction knows no geographical boundaries. Its impact needs to be addressed by all sectors of our community. How do we do that?
Who among our representative politicians at any level are doing more than giving lip service to this disease?
Last Wednesday our family shared our monthly meal with a dozen recovering men addicted to drugs and alcohol. Other volunteers bring a hot meal every night for a month to Serenity Inn, a residential living facility at 29th and Brown in the heart of Milwaukee. The people who serve these meals meet and know the men. Perceptions are changed, community is built across cultural and economic lines.
Serenity Inn receives men who come out of detox or our penal institutions, or are regular attenders at AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. Being in residence, the men are totally responsible for making the most of this recovery opportunity. Recovery is what they want. Recovery is what we need as a community.
When one sits at table with these men, it becomes clear how gifted they are. One way or another they have chosen a drug that negates that giftedness. Recovering to the point of re-entering the community with dignity, pride and responsibility is possible.
For years the public image of recovery programs has been the “half-way house” or the overnight “flop house.” While immediate shelter is rightly a front-burner concern, connecting that with at least a six- or seven-month program can provide many with the chance to choose a new kind of life.
Serenity Inn can be replicated. Milwaukee can use at least 25 programs of this stature for men and women. We need an approach that works along with the political will and the support of the community. Until then individual citizens who see the need have ways to act. With programs like Serenity Inn and META House the treatment part can be addressed. Replication does involve cost, but re-direction of current funding needs to be on the table.
It is vital to have staff members who both deeply understand addiction and are passionately dedicated to persons struggling with addiction. This is often overlooked when “programs” take priority over the people who need opportunity. Those charged with directing these programs need a system for meaningful communication to promote mutual learning and accountability.
With the national cry for more beds to treat the ever-increasing number of people who use drugs, Serenity Inn offers evidence that a six- to seven-month residential program that is well staffed and takes an intelligent approach can be a significant part of the solution. Teaming with other mission groups like Project Return and the Milwaukee Community Business Collaborative and with the city and law enforcement, which can provide “wrap-around” services, Milwaukee can make major progress in addressing this issue. Now is the time.