There’s a building on Shorter Avenue with a big, beautiful porch and plants all around it. A whimsical hedgehog sculpture welcomes visitors to the front door.
This used to be a funeral home. It used to be a place to care for the dead. Now it’s full of life and it’s full of hope.
This building, located at 408 Shorter Avenue, is the home of Living Proof Recovery. It’s filled with people who are recovering from a variety of addictions. But it’s not a clinic. It’s not a “facility.” It’s a warm, welcoming, comfortable space where community residents can come to connect with each other and to receive help on their journeys of recovery — wherever they may be on that road.
There’s a coffee bar, a kitchen filled with snacks, a meeting room, art on the walls, comfy sofas and a child care room filled with toys. It feels like you’re visiting a friend’s house.
“This all started in May, 2016,” said Claudia Hamilton, executive director of Living Proof Recovery. “Based on what community residents told us, there was a need for support of the recovery lifestyle. It started as one group, a Christian recovery group and have grown tremendously from there.”
Living Proof Recovery is a nonprofit led by people in long-term recovery, providing support services to those who are in or seeking recovery. It isn’t a treatment center or a 12-step clubhouse. It isn’t affiliated with a particular church or government agency although they do receive funds and donations from those sources.
Since being in operation for over a year, Living Proof opens its doors 12 hours a week and has served 6,400 people through its various services.
It provides a safe and supportive environment for people in or seeking recovery as well as free childcare for meetings and events. There’s a computer lab with free WiFi, free legal services once a month, snacks and coffee throughout the day, access to free chiropractic services monthly, overdose prevention training and peer support groups that meet every day except Wednesday. It also provides bus passes for those who would like to attend meetings and support groups but don’t have transportation.
And Living Proof also has fun activities like cookouts, parties and recovery outings.
There’s a nine-member board, some of who are in recovery themselves and some who aren’t.
“The people that come here are in recovery from a number of different things,” Claudia said. “Alcohol, crystal meth, heroine, pills and other things. And it’s good for people to know that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. If we can get you back with other people, back to the activities you love, back connected, then that’s the goal. We don’t care about what they’ve done. We care about moving forward.”
Claudia is all about keeping people connected. She said Living Proof offers activities such as exercise classes and Bible studies where people get to interact, talk to each other and listen to each other. They form friendships and they learn from each other.
“I love the fact that whether you’re 17 or 72, you can feel comfortable in the same place here,” she said. “Ironically we rarely talk about drugs. The majority of the people who come have been with us since our inception.”
Claudia said some people are mandated to attend sessions at Living Proof or to participate in various activities but she finds that many of them will come back even if when they don’t need to. She believes it’s because Living Proof offers such a safe, comfortable, caring environment. That’s important for those seeking recovery, she said.
And Claudia should know. She’s been in recovery from a heroin addiction for nine-and-a-half years. There was a time when she didn’t have a car, a driver’s license, and her son had been placed in the care of DFCS. But she changed all that. Today she’s happy and healthy and said she wishes that when she first began her journey of recovery that she had a place like Living Proof to go to.
“I’m no better than anyone here,” she said smiling and gesturing around her. “I want people to see that someone cares. And when people see that, then change is possible. They can come as often or as little as they like.”
She said it’s also important to change the language and stigma attached to addiction. She’d like people to know that addicts aren’t necessarily poor, dirty people who don’t care about themselves or their families. The people who attend sessions and activities at Living Proof are from all racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Some are doctors, nurses and teachers, some have no form of transportation and some are parents who have lost their kids to the state.
But they’re all welcome at Living Proof, she said. The organization has no regular, ongoing donors. It’s funded by individuals, churches and businesses who donate money, supplies and services. It also receives some funding through grant money.
Claudia said she always welcomes donations from the community. She’s also hoping to offer a Spanish-speaking recovery group if she can find someone to lead that.
“I’d love for people to get on our web site and learn more about us and the services we offer,” she said. “See who our board members are. See what we do and who we help.”
Living Proof Recovery isn’t a crisis center. And it’s not a clinic. It’s a warm, safe place where people go to connect with each other.
“Everyone is welcome.” Claudia said. “Everyone has a chance at recovery and a chance to connect. There’s always hope.”
And she should know. She’s living proof.