Leading people out of crisis
Turning Point offers culturally specific chemical dependency treatment for black people
By Abdi Mohamed | Photos by David Pierini
On the Northside, addiction has changed form over the years. Turning Point, a nonprofit that offers chemical health treatment and support services, including housing, has witnessed and responded to each iteration.
Founder Dr. Peter Hayden started the organization in 1976 as a halfway house and soon transitioned it into a chemical dependency residential program. Over the years, he says the organization has best served their clients by Woodrow Jefferson, community services outreach manager, runs a daily recovery meeting for Turning Point. developing a program rooted in black culture. The leaders found that when treating addiction, issues of poverty, violence and discrimination that have plagued the black community in America must also be addressed as fundamental causes of a client’s addiction.
Hayden, along with Turning Point’s Director of Support Services Angela Reed and Client Liaison and After Care Coordinator Woodrow Jefferson, spoke about meeting unmet needs related to addiction, leading people out of crisis, and offering second chances.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
How did you get into the profession of chemical dependency treatment? Hayden: I’m here for two reasons. There was a program up on Plymouth Avenue where the police station is now called The Way. Many of us came out of The Way, and it was just fantastic. From there I went back to school and graduated from the University of Minnesota. I found my voice through drugs and alcohol, so I went into treatment. My treatment was seven years—a treatment center and aftercare. Nobody looking like me was going through treatment. That’s where Turning Point came along. I said, can we not do this for our culture? I started working for Hennepin County in chemical dependency and mental health. Unfortunately, people are going to jail because of their drug and alcohol use today as they were then. We’re on Broadway not because we’re running away from the problems but running to them. We’re first responders!
What form of opioid use do you see here on the Northside? Is it more in pill form or heroin? Woodrow: It’s a combination of the two. It’s based on the availability and sometimes what people can afford. What I’m hearing is that with the doctors cutting people off oxycodone and all those drugs, there’s a spike in use of heroin. When the pendulum swings and doctors start cutting people off, people flood the streets. We’re left to deal with the addiction.
You offer culturally specific treatment. What needs are you meeting? Woodrow: I hear from patients that have gone to other places that if they make a mistake, they’re immediately asked to leave. To a fault sometimes at Turning Point, we give them two or three chances because we do understand the cultural piece and the trauma that an individual is going through that made them reach for the drugs in the first place.
What are the generational issues at play here? Angela: When it comes to the family, you’re going to want to look at how long that family’s been dealing with addiction. The longer the parent’s been dealing with it, the more of an impact on the child. When it comes to African Americans, it has a lot to do culturally as to why we use. People have to get rid of this kind of thinking that addiction is linked to choice. When it comes to the dynamics of the family, it has to do with the areas of impact and finding the underlying issue. When you have a parent using a lot of the time it’s because their parents used, it’s a coping mechanism to deal with the stress of being in poverty. It’s not necessarily always the drug that passes on generationally but the problems that caused the parents to use drugs then causing the child to use. With the African American community, you have to understand the whole gambit. This is Maslow’s hierarchy. If we don’t have peace, we won’t be able to find peace. In terms of the opioid epidemic here it’s just been a failure of multiple systems over the course of 15 to 20 years. It has to be highlighted and understood.
What is your outreach like to the community? Angela: At the recovery center we have an active outreach model where people can come in, but we’ll also go to them. We keep an eye out on the community and we’re just able to engage. Even though we have an array of services to get people into recovery, part of our goal is to get to people before they need that recovery. People need convincing, support and encouragement and to feel that they are welcome. We judge people by what they do and how they treat us. It’s human nature. My staff is trained in emotional intelligence, so we know that dealing with this stuff is going to be hard at times. We’re going to want to help everybody. We’ve dealt with the death of a participant who didn’t adhere to the program and that’s going to impact the African American provider. We have to be the first ones to understand our people are traumatized.
What do you think the media gets wrong about the issues around the opioid crisis? Woodrow: One thing I think that’s a misnomer is who’s getting high and doing the drugs. A lot of the time it’s the young folk, but there’s a lot of the elderly who get addicted to opiates. Let’s keep it 100, some people are getting pills and selling them to supplement their income because they’re on fixed income as a way of getting through the month. A woman who’s 77 years old relayed to me that her friend gets 100 pills a month, and she sells them. That’s how she’s able to live her life. She says she’s paying her mortgage and all that cause she doesn’t make enough on her fixed income.
What needs are going unmet in the community that you offer here? Woodrow: One of the needs we see as an agency is on domestic violence. We’ve established a collaboration with another organization. Every Saturday we have meetings open to the public.
Are you seeing women coming to Turning Point seeking treatment? Angela: Women are seeking treatment more and more. We are still not able to reach the number of women that we hoped. Women are able to access our day and evening outpatient treatment. We also offer low income and group residential housing for women. Our recovery center is a great resource for women. Women are able to connect with other women who are positive, engaging trustworthy, and in recovery.
What are the gender dynamics when it comes to seeking help with addiction? Angela: When women in addiction are seeking care their age, family, support system and resources greatly impact their success. Women with children need additional support to make their children healthy as well as a recovery based outlet for social engagement outside their primary role as caregivers. In most situations when a woman is in treatment they also have to focus on making sure they are able to meet the needs of their families when they leave treatment. Because it could be a contributing and triggering factor to their relapse. Women greatly benefit from wraparound services, long term aftercare, housing and resources to elevate some of the stress of supporting a family.
What is unique to the women’s treatment program here at Turning Point? Angela: We have two families living at our houses. The women’s support group is a recovery program that has a talking circle and it's run with a recovery coach model also with some emotional intelligence concepts. They have a period of time where it’s just open discussion where they can discuss any needs and services that they want. They have the opportunity to form relationships with women who have already been through recovery. The women are at a variety of ages where they can come and discuss services and participate in our general education programming as well. We shift the topics where we can take about parenting, we give them resources on how to talk to their kids about drugs or how to know if their kids are using drugs. We then get them into goal setting, planning and organizing to the point where they’ll be able to be reflective and resilient.
How do you measure the success of your program? Woodrow: One client at a time. First, I become a leader of one, myself. Then I help others lead themselves then they can lead their families out of this crisis that we see. That’s my hope. If I can change one man, and he can go back to his children and help them understand, it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make. I see hope in our community. I live here on the Northside. I make enough money where I could live anywhere else but I live in the Northside because I believe in the change. Angela: Overall our cultural measurement of outcome is how they [patients] value themselves and are able to set personal goals, large and small. Teaching them the strategy and knowing that there are ups and downs but that you need to have a plan and go back to the process. I like to measure by if you’re able to reach a goal that you set for yourself and if you keep going for it. Hayden: What Angela and Woodrow have said. It’s kind of like the philosophy of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, but here you don’t have any bootstraps. I think that once you get the person to the point that we’re talking about, that’s adding the bootstrap.