A safe place for recovering addicts

Providence, RI – Rhode Island has a drug and alcohol problem. The Ocean State ranks first in the nation for the percentage of residents 12 and older who use illegal drugs and it has the highest rate of alcohol use.

In an attempt to chip away at those numbers, advocates recently opened the state's first community center for recovering addicts.

Jim Gillen describes the new facility this way- "It's a palace. It's home. It's a four thousand square foot recovery paradise," he says.

Gillen's grey hair is slicked back into a tiny pony tail. He wears two silver rings in one of his ears and is dressed all in black except for his Santa Claus tie. His smile nearly reaches all the way up to his ears as he looks around the recovery space on 249 Main st in Pawtucket.

Gillen is the director of the Anchor Recovery Community Center, and a recovering addict himself. He says he wishes he had a place like this in his first years of struggling with sobriety.

"I know one of the biggest barriers for me over the years was what do I do?" he says. "Ok, I've stopped using, I've stopped going to bars, now what? What do I do, my whole life has changed."

And that's the point of the Anchor Recovery Center. It's not a treatment facility or a sober house- it's a place for people who need a new place to belong- a place where they know they won't be tempted by drugs and alcohol.

The center is open six days a week to anyone who wants to walk through the doors. Gillen is flexible about how people use the space. One man came in the other day to drink coffee and avoid alcohol. But the center also offers structured activities- job placement assistance, peer to peer support, and a variety of recovery meetings.

About twenty people sit in black folding chairs in the main room at the Anchor for one of the center's daily all recovery meetings- a free form gathering where the stricter rules and religious terminology of other twelve step programs are welcome but not necessary.

Bob Einhorn offered to volunteer at the Anchor a few weeks ago and he hasn't left since. He spends his day sitting at the front desk, listening to the blues and answering the phone.

"I love it, I've never felt better," he says. "I'm the richest man in the world and I don't even have money for dinner."

Frank Difusco says he's been struggling with his addictions for more than 20 years, "We didn't have this when I first came in," he says. "All we had were meetings. Meetings are great, but for an addict just to have somewhere to go that's safe, where you know that they're not using is huge. I wish they had this years ago."

Rhode Island is a little behind when it comes to establishing community centers like this. Connecticut opened its first recovery center in 2004, and it now has two more. Massachusetts has six and Vermont has nine.

The anchor's director Jim Gillen says his employer- the Providence Center- has been working to establish a community recovery center for about 2 and half years. A grant and some speedy work by the Pawtucket zoning department finally made the place a reality.

"Other cities and towns, they were like, Well we think it's a good idea, but maybe this isn't the neighborhood for it,'" Gillen says. "But you know what, it happens for a reason. The city of Pawtucket was awesome. They were like, you know what, let's do this."

Gillen says now that the Anchor is finally open, he'll prove to the surrounding community that there's nothing to be afraid of. He's convinced that once the state sees the concept in action, similar centers will pop up all over Rhode Island.

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