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Binding Together Addicts' Lives

Not-for-profit New York company houses, trains, counsels, and pays recovering drug abusers. DRUG TREATMENT

By Cynthia B. HansonStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 30, 1990


ELIZABETH BARBOSA had never held a job - except as an addicted, street-wise heroin dealer. So when she finally decided to check into a 17-month-long residential drug treatment program to kick her seven-year habit, she was dubious about her job prospects. ``I thought I could never work. I thought I wasn't part of society,'' says the soft-spoken high school dropout who grew up in the South Bronx. Yet for the last two years, this 25-year-old mother of two has held a full-time job and says she has been free of heroin use.

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Ms. Barbosa attributes much of her success to the job training she received from Binding Together, Inc. (BTI), a not-for-profit printing and binding corporation that offers training in the printing industry for recovering addicts. During a six-month program, she learned how to set up, operate, service, and maintain high-tech office and copying equipment while she received regular counseling and treatment at a live-in drug treatment center.

Barbosa is one of 82 recovering addicts who have graduated from this two-year-old, one-of-a-kind program. Last spring, BTI was selected by the US Department of Labor for a presidential award for its ``outstanding program for serving those with multiple barriers to employment.''

``Everybody says that to place people who are homeless and addicted to drugs is impossible,'' says Ted Small, president of Small & Associates, a private consulting firm here that conceived the program five years ago. ``It is not impossible, but it requires a complex partnership of a lot of different groups working together,'' Mr. Small continues. His company specializes in developing employment programs for people with drug and alcohol problems, as well as those with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.

BTI participants are carefully selected by drug-rehabilitation agencies and BTI counselors.

Every aspect of a person's problem needs to be addressed - from rehabilitation to homelessness to job training, Small says. Even if you solve every problem but one, ``you may have thrown your money away'' if you can't solve the last one, says the Yale Law School graduate who was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers. What's unusual about BTI is that it combines the business community, counseling, residential drug treatment, and a job training program, he says.

Drugs, homeless link

Small & Associates first began working on the BTI program in 1985 at the request of New York's Division of Substance Abuse Service (DSAS). ``They said they had a real problem in providing vocational services to people who were not only on drugs, but had been on drugs to such an extent that they'd become homeless,'' says Small in an interview at his office near Wall Street.

Drug abuse and homelessness often go hand in hand, he says. And recovering addicts seldom have enough money even for the security deposit on an apartment when they leave treatment programs. The problem is more acute in expensive cities like New York, he says.

Recovering addicts may find themselves at ``the reentry phase,'' says Small: off drugs, but unsure of ``what they are going to do with their lives.'' How do such people get themselves out of the circumstances that got them into drugs in the first place? Small asks. Too often, they return to the streets - and to drugs - because they have little money or means.

Recidivism can be reduced, Small claims, by giving recovering addicts job training and housing in a residential treatment center, and temporary housing while they look for jobs.

The most current statistics in an ongoing DSAS study show that of the 125 BTI participants enrolled since the program began in 1988, 30 were in training, 13 had dropped out, and 82 had graduated. Of the graduates, 76 got jobs. Six months later, 83 percent of them were still employed. Some had been promoted.

``Those outcomes are fabulous for any group in an employment and training program,'' says Joan Randell, assistant deputy director of DSAS. ``To have 83 percent still working after six months is unheard-of ... considering these people are among the hardest to be served.''

DSAS is one of five state and city agencies funneling federal funds from the Job Training Partnership Act to provide half of BTI's $1 million annual budget. The rest comes from sales and private-sector grants.