Baltimore Street Station, in Baltimore, Maryland, is a long-term residential facility that specializes in treating homeless male veterans. It was founded by a minister and two community outreach activists in 1987, and has since been incorporated as a non-profit with two locations in Baltimore. In addition to substance abuse, BSS also treats co-occurring disorders such as PTSD, and all counselors are also program alumni.
Accommodations and Food
The first of BSS’s two facilities is South Baltimore Station in the Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood, which is a largely African-American community that fell on hard times during urban renewal efforts in the 1960s and 70s. Today, the neighborhood is a mix of vacant lots, warehouses and historic rowhouses. The south building is a renovated brick firehouse that offers dorm-style accommodations with beds for 92 residents. While most rooms are shared, there are a limited number of semi-private suites; it also has a kitchen and lounge area. Some unique architectural features include a rooftop garden and a historic spiral staircase discovered during renovation.
The second location, Baker Street Station, is in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, another community that has been plagued by high rates of crime and gang violence. It too is in a former brick firehouse, and offers beds for 46 residents; additionally, two nearby rowhouses provide transitional housing for up to 16 program graduates. Both locations offer central dormitories with bunk beds, linoleum floors and overhead fluorescents, and both have a mostly institutional character.
Meals are prepared (or paid for, depending on the week) by a rotating line-up of volunteers, church groups and outreach organizations. The menu varies from traditional American dishes to rotating ethnic food such as tacos. Food is served in a communal dining hall, and the volunteers who prepare meals are encouraged to eat alongside residents.
Treatment and Staff
Staff are on-site around the clock, 80% of whom are veterans themselves. All case managers are alumni of the program, now with degrees in substance abuse counseling. Treatment revolves around a wellness model rather than a disease model, meaning it’s not concerned with the 12 steps. Instead, counselors focus on the underlying processes of addiction rather than drug abuse itself—as a corollary, BSS emphasizes personal responsibility and self-reflection at the core of their curriculum. Residents live in a tightly structured and immersive environment that prioritizes education, self-motivation and learning skills like budgeting and home management.
BSS’s program is optimized towards a one-year residency, although clients can spend up to two years in the facility. There’s no on-site detox at either location. Instead, the first month consists of “sitting still” and identifying the roots of addiction through personal counseling and intensive drug and alcohol education. Residents wake early and spend most of the day in individual therapy and group therapy, with acupuncture and massage offered during to help ease withdrawal symptoms.
Months two through six focus on acquiring job and financial skills, as well as learning how to establish a stable support network. Months six through 12 are a transitional period where residents can live with minimal supervision, attend school, work, repair damaged relationships and mentor incoming residents. In order to graduate, clients must find stable employment and housing, which most do successfully after 18 months; the average stay is between six and 24 months.
In addition to the aforementioned acupuncture and massage, Baltimore Street Station offers art therapy, rooftop gardening, spiritual counseling and educational opportunities for residents who want to earn their GED or attend college. Volunteers also frequently visit and interact with residents as a form of community integration. Finally, BSS provides employment counseling, job placement services and legal and medical referrals.
Despite gradual changes over the years, both BSS’s locations are in neighborhoods still marked by high crime, turf wars and poverty. Residents have limited exposure to the neighborhood in the early stages of the program, but the closer they get to graduation, the more they’re encouraged to live independently outside of the facility. This program is also for male veterans only, and residents sometimes include those with mental health issues or criminal records.
Baltimore Street Station provides men long-term immersion in a rigorous therapeutic community, though with an absence of 12-step support. For some clients, the emphasis on extreme personal responsibility and self-motivation will prove demanding, and the surroundings don’t offer the serenity that some may crave. Still, others may respond to their alternative approach, especially as there aren’t many other free options like it in the area.
South Baltimore Station
140 W. West St
Baltimore, MD 21230
Baker Street Station
1611 Baker St
Baltimore, MD 21217
Baltimore Street Station Cost: Free (sliding scale for long-term residency). Reach Baltimore Street Station by phone at (410) 752-4454 or by email on their website. Find Baltimore Street Station on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+
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