A new low-barrier addiction treatment center in downtown Spokane, Compassionate Addiction Treatment, plans to meet people where they are in order to build a community focused on recovery.
Hallie Burchinal, her wife Kelli Eddings and her sister Trudy Frantz have all worked in addiction treatment and outreach to people experiencing homelessness for years.
One Saturday morning a few months ago over coffee they got talking about the holes that needed to be filled when it comes to addiction treatment in Spokane. Then they thought, “We can meet that need,” Eddings explained.
Compassionate Addiction Treatment opened last month and provides holistic care to people dealing with substance use disorders, with a focus on street outreach.
The nonprofit center offers medication for addiction treatment, assessment and referrals, outpatient care and case management, among other services. CAT also manages two transitional houses.
“There are only a couple other workers from any agency working directly on the streets,” Burchinal said at a CAT open house Tuesday.
“I realized that there was a large group of people out here that were the most at risk of dying whether it be from an overdose, the elements, violence, all these various things,” Burchinal said. “And when they would reach out for help themselves, they would hit a wall. They had a very difficult time accessing help. There are just so many barriers to care.”
At CAT, the only requirement is that clients do not do anything illegal on the premises and respect the drug, alcohol and weapon-free environment.
Burchinal serves as the recovery program director but also shares a unique perspective as someone who has experienced homelessness.
“I grew up in a family with a lot of dysfunction and had mental health and trauma with a parent that had a lot of trauma,” Burchinal said.
She was homeless from age 16 to 18 before getting pregnant and receiving welfare.
“Actually what brought me out of homelessness was the reality of I got pregnant. And I finally was able to access welfare,” Burchinal said. “And that’s actually what allowed me to get housed. There were no services to get me housed as a teenager.”
Her sister, Trudy Frantz, was also homeless for a year as a teenager.
Now Frantz is a registered nurse and manages the medication-assisted treatment program at CAT. Medication-assisted treatment involves the use of medicine to reduce the effects of withdrawals. Frantz and volunteer medical professionals also offer vaccines and wound treatment.
“We both saw a big gaping hole that needed to be met, because a lot of them have a hard time keeping appointments and going out of the downtown area,” Frantz said of opening CAT.
But CAT is about more than just treatment. It’s also a warm, welcoming place where clients can sit and have a cup of coffee while waiting to see a staff member, Burchinal explained.
“Primarily, we are a safe place for people to come in if they’re interested in recovery,” Frantz said. “They’re not required to engage in our services, just respect that other people are in recovery. And we’re doing that more so that they can become comfortable with us and trust us, because that’s a huge issue.”
One of CAT’s early clients, Breayan Lane, had tried for years to find housing and stay sober.
Lane, 21, has been homeless from the time she was seven years old until last week, when she was able to get housing and a job through the women at Compassionate Addiction Treatment.
Lane is due to have a baby girl in two weeks and moved into a studio apartment last Thursday.
“For the first time ever, I had my own little studio apartment and my daughter will be able to come home,” Lane said.
The help didn’t stop there; Lane has received baby clothes and a bassinet through resources the women at CAT told her about.
“These people actually saw that I was in chronic depression and I had severe problems, and they sat down and talked to me and they didn’t ask me what I needed them to do,” Lane said. “They asked me what would be in my best interest for not just myself or my baby but for them too – what kind of plan did they see me working with them for.”
Lane has been sober for four months and said maintaining that sobriety is a continual struggle.
With the support of the women at CAT, Lane said she has somewhere to go and more resources available to her.
“They give you motivation. They don’t stop. They help look for resources,” Lane said.
Now that Lane has housing, she is focused on bringing her daughter home.
“Really, honestly, I just want my daughter to learn compassion, empathy and sympathy from my experiences,” Lane said.
For co-founder Kelli Eddings, focusing on compassion and creating a non-judgmental community were important parts of starting CAT.
Eddings does case management and has worked for other nonprofits focusing on homelessness, which helped her learn how to navigate the available resources.
Being “right in the heart of things” was important to Eddings, who helped find CAT’s location on West Second Avenue.
That separate space for recovery downtown is something other organizations support.
Julie Garcia of Jewels Helping Hands, the organization set to run a city-funded warming center opening next week, plans to make CAT a stop on their bus line.
“So this will be one of our regular bus stops every day,” Garcia said. “They can come in for counseling for their group meetings, get out of the shelter and work on their recovery.”
Monica Tittle, 44, has been homeless for almost two years since her mother died. A year ago, she was depressed and planning to commit suicide until she stumbled upon her dog, Jackson, one day on the street.
“I got him about a year ago, and I had planned on committing suicide the day after I got him. I found this woman that was just going to throw him on the side of the road,” Tittle said. “The second I saw him, I was like, ‘No, that’s my child, that’s my baby.’ ”
Since then, Tittle has started taking classes to become a peer support counselor and continued to maintain her sobriety.
She has five years, four months and two days as of Tuesday.
Tittle was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and chronic depression. She hopes to help others with mental health conditions and substance abuse after taking her certification test next month.
“Usually people that are homeless aren’t drug addicts when they start out,” Tittle said. “They do it because they get attacked out here, especially women, and they want to get away from the pain.”
As she works to finish her classes and get housing, Tittle said the women from Compassionate Addiction Treatment have supported her.
Tittle met Garcia and stayed with her family for a short time before Garcia introduced her to Burchinal.
“She just wants the best for everyone. She doesn’t judge anybody. She’s been homeless herself, and she knows what it’s like,” Tittle said.
Now Tittle hopes to work at CAT as a peer support counselor after taking her exam next month.
Even though they have been open for just about a month, CAT already has plans for the future.
Catholic Charities is donating a bus to the organization to help them offer medication-assisted treatment, vaccines, wound care and information on resources outside of the downtown core.
CAT also has the backing of the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, a charitable organization that funds grants and organizations that focus on helping those in poverty.
“I think the most important thing that attracted us to them is the fact that they’re meeting people where they are,” said Lerria Schuh of the fund. “They’re going to be out on the streets, they’re developing those relationships.”
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