Recovering addicts are threatened with eviction from Frankford.
It's 1997, and Jeffrey Jackson is getting wet.
He's balled up, trying to sleep inside New Way Out, an addiction-recovery house in Kensington.
The 28-year-old addict is in the process of kicking heroin after moving on from cocaine, but he's starving and sweating and can't somebody stop that damn rain from coming in?
"I told the director, 'Hey, your roof is leaking,'" Jackson says now. "The guy looked at me with a straight face and said, 'Then move your bed.'"
Life is different for Jackson these days: Now 40, he has a master's degree in behavioral studies. He founded Dignity Recovery, which operates two sober-living homes in Philadelphia dedicated to helping addicts kick the habit through patience and therapy. It's a far cry from the care he received at New Way Out.
Jackson recently moved one of his recovery homes to a larger location not far from that old leaky roof from his past. He's also trying to add two more beds to a second home in Frankford, his childhood neighborhood. The former addict takes pride in the tall, orderly structure on the 1700 block of Harrison Street with its fresh coat of paint and tidy porch. The only hint of unusual activity is the small sign beside the door that reads "DIGNITY RECOVERY."
But opponents in the community say operations like Jackson's aren't welcome in Frankford because addicts attract dealers and crime to a neighborhood that's struggling to recover after decades of abuse and neglect.
Last week, in the basement of Saint Joachim's Church in lower Frankford, critics gathered to discuss what they call the saturation of the neighborhood by recovery homes like Jackson's. Representatives from the city's Office of Addiction Services (OAS), Department of Licenses and Inspections and the state Board of Health were all there to hear the angry spray from residents dismayed by Frankford's dense cluster of facilities devoted to helping addicts. Some residents estimate that there are more than 50 of these homes in the neighborhood, giving Frankford the highest density of addict-recovery homes in the city.
"We are saturated [with recovery homes] in certain areas," says City Councilwoman Maria Qui�ones-Sanchez of the 7th District, who is looking into potential legislative action on the issue. "We have more than absorbed our fair share."
Opponents aren't squawking about the state-licensed, OAS-funded inpatient and outpatient facilities that dot corridors like Frankford Avenue. Their tempers are reserved for the privately owned recovery homes--like Jackson's--which require little more than a business-privilege license to operate legally and aren't subject to city or state oversight.
Some people establish such homes with the best intentions, but others do so only for profit. In those cases, residents pay an entrance fee and hand over their food stamps, disability checks and any other government assistance for which they're eligible.
Elvis Rosado, formerly a therapist at a handful of clinics in and around Frankford, says these directors use the various welfare vouchers for themselves and provide residents with substandard living supplies. They might use their residents for contract work in construction, maintenance and cleaning, but those residents never see any money for it. These directors don't necessarily care about offering support or requiring that their residents attend therapy or sober-living meetings, Rosado says, so long as the government-assistance checks keep coming in and no one complains. Many of his former clients in recovery houses were mistreated: used for free labor, stolen from and underfed.
But, Rosado adds, "In Frankford, 25 percent of these homes are actually doing something positive. The good ones? If you visit them, they paint a beautiful picture. Recovery is possible there."
The "good ones" Rosado refers to may take government assistance from their residents, but they use it for healthy foods in an open, stocked kitchen. The home's directors help their residents find work and encourage them to save money. Like Jackson, they have staff members participate in non-mandatory recovery-house- operation trainings with the city's Department of Behavioral Health/Mental Retardation Services. They also participate in neighborhood events; Jackson attends every Frankford Civic Association meeting.