A New Solution

From the Oregonian, December 8, 1994

The LifeChange center offers more than food, shelter; it offers answers The walls wear fresh paint; the floors, new carpet. A wide-screen television graces the corner of a sun-soaked room.

In the bathroom and kitchen, fixtures gleam. In a closet, a new washer and dryer set awaits its first loads.

To Lori Snyder, this new Union Gospel Mission center for women with addiction problems is more than just a place to face the problem: it’s part of the solution.

“A lot of people who came to the mission have never lived in a place this nice,” says Snyder, a senior leader at the Mission’s new LifeChange center for women. “I think when they see what they can have — that this kind of place can be their home — it will give them hope.”

Snyder should know.

She came to the program — housed until now in the Royal Palm Hotel in Old Town — two years ago, fresh from a three-day, $1,500 crack binge. She hadn’t eaten or slept in three days. She made her money through prostitution.

The Royal Palm facility wasn’t nearly as nice as the new space. But it cleaned her up, rebuilt her self-esteem and launched her journey toward sobriety.

Today, a Mission staffer, she believes this new and improved facility will be even more successful.

The idea, says executive director Don Michel, is to give the women a glimpse of a better life, a life they can have and deserve.

“To have something this nice gives them some vision, some hope,” says Michel. “It helps them see what” they can achieve.

Violet Hill, the program’s other senior leader, agrees.

Having lived in cars, on the streets and in shelters, she knows the value of a nice place to live and believes that’s what the new building provides.

“I think it’s going to allow women to feel a sense of well being and security,” says Hill, a heroine addict for 12 years before joining the program. “You need to feel safe, like you’re in a home so you can work on the issues you have to work on.”

Those issues are worked on as part of the LifeChange program, an intensive in-patient recovery program. The approach includes work therapy, education and small group support.

The program is based on San Francisco’s Delancey Street program, acclaimed as a model for helping ex-prisoners.

Until recently, LifeChange operated out of the Royal Palm Hotel in Old Town, a roach-ridden, older building, given to plumbing and mechanical breakdowns.

The Mission sold the building to Mental Health Services West during the summer and sank the money into renovating the third floor at the Union Gospel Mission on Third Street.

The space now features a long dormitory room that will be lined with bunk beds. It will also have three semi-private rooms for women who have shown progress in their recovery. The center has a new laundary room, kitchen and lounge area.

In addition to providing a more livable space, the new facility will allow for 25 women, instead of the 14 at the Royal Palm . The nine women currently in the program will be transferred over the next several weeks, Michel says.

The Mission’s next goal is to renovate the men’s LifeChange center on the second floor of the mission.

The women’s space is so nice, says Michel, that he might fear a clamor to get in — if the rules and regulations weren’t so strict.

The program, which serves men on a second-floor shelter, requires participants stay clean and sober, work at least 40 hours a week and complete a GED program.

Residents, who typically stay from two to four years, are restricted in travel and constantly supervised. They have structured activities from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Having stayed clean for two years, Hill earned the title of senior leader, as well as a separate apartment in the new facility.

“This is the longest I’ve ever been clean,” she says. The program “put me in a place where I could find out what real love was. . . . That’s how I recovered.”