Steinberg: St. Martin de Porres doing good while going broke

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Getting clean is expensive. There are counselors to pay, sheets to launder, and all that coffee to buy. In-house rehab can cost $10,000 a month or more, and that is not anything fancy. Fancy will set you back $50,000 a month. Sound like a lot? Exclusive rehabs in exotic locales charge twice that.

Then there is St. Martin de Porres House of Hope, a recovery home in Woodlawn. Its residents pay nothing. Located in an old Catholic school, next door to the burned Shrine of Christ the King Church, St. Martin offers “a safe and structured community living environment for women and children to recover from substance abuse addiction.”

Don’t overlook the “and children” part. Very few rehab centers permit kids. St. Martin de Porres has cribs and a toy-strewn playroom.

“By 5 o’clock this place will be filled with kids,” said Yaiso Hagood, executive director, giving a tour Friday while residents were at morning meditation class. “Since we have an older population, their grandchildren come on the weekend. It’s a very therapeutic process for them.

“For many of them, their relationships with their adult children are strained because of their abuse issues. So their grandchildren help bridge the gap to bring the family back together.”

a baby crib in a room at St. Martin de Porres

Few rehab centers permit kids. St. Martin de Porres has cribs and a toy-strewn playroom. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

The facility was founded in 1983 by two nuns, Therese O’Sullivan and Connie Driscoll. Originally it was a shelter for homeless women. But since addiction is such a significant part of homelessness, St. Martin de Porres gradually became a rehab center.

It also went broke.

OPINION

“This is the ninth year the organization has been operating at a deficit,” said Hagood.

Not coincidentally, Sister Connie passed away nine years ago.

“She was a businesswoman,” said Sister Therese, an elfin woman of 78. “She was always out, raising money. I’m the one who stayed here and ran this place.”

I wondered if Illinois’ insolvency worsened their financial woes, and Sister Therese revealed another marvel: they don’t receive money from the state. Never did. Not a penny.

I heard of St. Martin de Porres from Kevin Lavin. Readers might remember Kevin from Thanksgiving. He’s the executive director of Guildhaus, a Blue Island rehab home. He met Sister Therese in the classic Chicago manner: at a wake.

Kevin Lavin and Sister Therese

Kevin Lavin and Sister Therese | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Lavin asked how things were going. “Not good,” the nun said.

‘What do we have to do to make them good?’ Lavin replied.

“There aren’t that many halfway houses for women,” he told me. “There are all these things for guys out there and nothing for women. . . . I decided to get involved. They’re under water. I’ve got to get them above. The way to do that is get them up to code.”

The Illinois Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse might help, but St. Martin has to improve its physical setting, such as installing a $100,000 sprinkler system, which Lavin asked Ald. Willie B. Cochran (20th) to help pay for. Cochran said he will do what he can.

“I’ve known and been associated with it for 35 years,” Cochran said. “They run a great house. They have done excellent work. I’ve supported them over the decades and will continue to support them to the best of my ability. We will consider using those TIF funds where they can be spent to support them.”

Lavin brings his own ideas about how St. Martin de Porres should adapt as it moves forward.

“They have a wonderful program,” Lavin said. But “they keep them in the house for seven months. They can’t work. They won’t let ’em work. That’s going to change. I’m on the board now.

“So I’m going to make it 30 days, go get a job, through a staffing agency I work with. They go to classes all day to learn how to balance a checkbook. What are you balancing if you don’t have anything?’ Get a job. This is America. People work, and you feel better about yourself.”

Speaking of feeling better about yourself, why let Cochran have all the fun? You can join in, and help right now by visiting the St. Martin website and making a donation. I did. It feels good.



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