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Difference Makers: Hallie Burchinal brings personal experience in helping low-income residents get addiction help

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Finding what she was meant to do has been a decades long quest for Hallie Burchinal.

She has waited tables, worked with disabled adults, opened a natural food store, run a successful business importing goods, owned an old-fashioned toy store, worked to bring young mothers out of homelessness, and been an advocate for people right after they overdosed to help get them into treatment.

Now, Burchinal has found her place after opening Compassionate Addiction Treatment, a no barrier addiction treatment center in downtown Spokane.

This isn’t the first time Burchinal has worked in addiction treatment and those experiences helped her see the challenges people experiencing homelessness faced in not only receiving treatment but staying in treatment.

“What we realized was that nobody wanted my clients,” Burchinal said. “Everybody had a previous experience with them where they hadn’t done well in treatment and just weren’t welcoming them back.”

Once Burchinal could get clients in treatment, her advocacy was often needed to keep them there.

“They’re real quick to be dropped from care like if they missed an appointment,” Burchinal said. “All these things that I knew were part of being homeless because I had been homeless.”

When she was a teenager Burchinal was homeless for a few years, as was her sister and Compassionate Addiction Treatment co-founder, Trudy Frantz.

Burchinal had an unstable childhood. She moved frequently and attended dozens of schools.

“There tended to be people within our family sphere that weren’t safe,” Burchinal said. “I tended to be very cautious and aware of my surroundings.”

At the age of 16, Burchinal decided to move out on her own in hopes of a more stable situation.

She got a job through a nonprofit, paid $150 for a studio apartment, and started attending an alternative high school. Shortly after getting settled on her own, management changed at her job and cracked down on the “punk rock kids” who worked there.

“He suspended me from work for two weeks for being sick during an employee meeting,” Burchinal said. “So, I lost everything.”

Burchinal couldn’t pay her rent and became homeless. She lived on the streets of Spokane for two years in the mid-1980s.

“There was a heating grate at a parking garage downtown that I would sometimes sleep on at night,” Burchinal said. She would couch surf occasionally at friend’s houses but struggled to open up to those friends’ parents, Burchinal said.

“I was so shy I never shared my story with any of the parents so I don’t think I ever gave them an opportunity to feel empathy for me,” Burchinal explained.

There were very few services for Burchinal at the time and the inconsistency of life on the street made it too difficult to stay in school.

“I was an A student until I was homeless,” Burchinal said. “I just could not maintain survival and school at the same time. It just became less and less important as it got more about where I was going to sleep.”

In the 1980s, there were far fewer services in Spokane for homeless youth, Burchinal said.

When Burchinal got pregnant as a teenager, she was able to move closer to family and use welfare to help make ends meet.

In her late 20s, Burchinal struggled with a gambling addiction, something she only recently has opened up about.

“I have a really strong awareness of addiction and how you literally can be unknowingly opening a door that you can’t just easily walk back out of,” Burchinal said. “I feel like sharing our stories and having a voice is what’s going to help change the stigma that surrounds addiction as a disease and so I’m trying to be brave about that.”

When it comes to addiction, trauma is often a huge factor. The trauma can be from childhood circumstances, abuse, a physical attack or, what Burchinal said she often sees in her work – the trauma that comes with being homeless.

“Some people become homeless and addiction is something that comes afterward as a way of coping with the trauma,” Burchinal said. “There is a lot of trauma involved in being homeless. You’re preyed upon a lot and actually the drug dealing community preys upon the homeless a lot as well as the sex trafficking.”

At Compassionate Addiction Treatment, clients often have their Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs score evaluated. The score creates a link between childhood trauma and the likelihood of self-destructive behaviors later in life.

“When you’re talking about trauma, you can’t force a person to health,” Burchinal said. “If trauma is the underlying aspect of a person’s substance use disorder – if that’s what helped open the door to that disorder – being forced into treatment isn’t going to have the outcomes I imagine they are wishing for.”

Burchinal’s vision for a no-barrier treatment center, where recovery could start with a cup of coffee and a conversation or more intensely with medical assistance, was shared by her both Burchinal’s sister, Franz, and her wife, Kelli Eddings.

The three women turned co-founders started planning to open the center late last year but getting funding for the project was intimidating, Burchinal explained.

That changed when a friend suggested they get in touch with the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund.

“It could not have been a more perfect time for us out looking for ways in the community for ways to support the most vulnerable,” said Sharon Smith from Smith-Barbieri.

“When Hallie (Burchinal) called and explained their concept and talked about how they’re meeting people where they are, they are bringing this new service to Spokane that has not yet been tried or done. It was a no-brainer for us,” Smith said. “It was a perfect fit.”

While the backing from Smith-Barbieri got Compassionate Addiction Treatment up and running, the process of becoming eligible for Medicaid reimbursements has been difficult. Burchinal quit her job but Franz and Eddings still work full time on top of putting in 40 plus hours a week at CAT.

Ultimately, it’s all worth it because Burchinal has finally found her place by creating a place for other to heal.

“It’s that missing piece,” said Burchinal “It’s creating a connection with someone, realizing that they actually care about you and aren’t judging you.”

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