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Homelessness And Other Barriers To Recovery

September 16th, 2021
heather gibson

On today’s episode, Zach interviews Heather Gibson, Vice President of Program Services for The Healing Place, a nationally recognized drug & alcohol recovery center in Louisville, Kentucky, to discuss homelessness and other barriers to recovery. Since it was originally founded as a homeless shelter in 1989, The Healing Place has helped more than 6,000 men and women to live sober at no cost to their clients. It also has been recognized as a “Model That Works” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Zach and Heather talk about social determinants of recovery, The Healing Place’s long-term recovery model, and more.


Welcome to Recovery Radio by Landmark Recovery with your host, Zach Crouch. In this program, we’ll discuss the root causes and treatments of alcohol and substance addiction, speak with experts in related fields, and help navigate the road to recovery. Now, here’s the host of Recovery Radio, Zach Crouch.

Zach: Hey, everybody. Zach Crouch here again with Landmark Recovery Radio, your source for addiction and recovery news and knowledge. Last week, I spoke with Michelle Dubey. She’s the chief clinical officer at Landmark Recovery to kick off the month of September. It was September being National Recovery Month, Michelle had some great insights about mental health and recovery. If you missed it, please go back, check that out. We always love when new people subscribe to the show as well.

And then also in other news, Landmark Recovery just celebrated 5 years this past week. At Landmark Recovery, our primary mission is to help individuals caught in addiction, to release their full potential. We are proud that we began this journey right here in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2016. So, since that time, we have opened six recovery treatment centers in four different States. We only continue to grow. Last week, we celebrated the lives that had been changed in our five-year history, and we also recognized another organization that is also doing fantastic work in the addiction space and Louisville, specifically, The Healing Place.

Since today, we only thought it appropriate to highlight the Healing Place on our podcast. We have Heather Gibson joining us on the show. Heather serves as the Vice President of program services for The Healing Place, which is now a nationally recognized drug and alcohol recovery program. Founded in 1989 as a homeless shelter and medical clinic for men, The Healing Place has helped more than 6,000 men and women to live sober, productive lives at no cost to their clients. It has been recognized as a model that works by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Its long-term recovery approach has been replicated in 14 Recovery, Kentucky facilities as well as facilities in Richmond, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina. In her role as Vice President for program services, Heather oversees all of the Healing Place programs, including both the men’s and women’s campuses and detoxifies the Healing Place of Campbellsville and its affiliates. Before coming to The Healing Place, Heather worked in the Department of Public Advocacy. Heather, we admire the work you’re doing at The Healing Place, so thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Heather: Thank you for having me.

Zach: With your expertise and experience, you have some pretty unique insight when it comes to addiction treatment and recovery advocacy. What led you to become an advocate for the addict?

Heather: Well, I would be lying if I said this was my chosen career path because that was not the case. It’s something that I fell into when I used to work in the criminal Justice Arena. Everybody I worked with had an addiction that was somehow woven into their lives, whether it was the person I was working with or it was in their family. It just was a very common theme.

When I worked with the Department for Public Advocacy, it was pretty intense working with intense clients. I just felt like I wasn’t having the level of impact that I wanted to have. I wanted to be a part of the change and just change in some way by helping people. I just fell into this job at The Healing Place. I applied to be a family coordinator here. I’m a bit of an anomaly in the recovery world because I’m not in recovery myself.

Zach: You are an anomaly.

Heather: I’m the anomaly. And so, knowing the Healing Place, I thought there’s no way they’re going to hire me for this job. What do I know about recovery and family? But they took a chance on me, and I quickly bought into what we do here and just really love the work that we do. I love our client population. I just really can’t picture myself working with any other. These are my people.

Zach: Tell me more about that. Like when you say these are your people, that this is the client population you love the most, what do you think clicks for you each day, each week, each month that you work there, that sort of reinforces that for you?

Heather: I think the fact that we just continue to meet people where they are with minimal expectations on the front end, that we really understand when people come to us, that they are not in the best of places, and we just place no judgment on that whatsoever. We are just here for you. We’re ready to help you if you’re ready to be helped. I also love that we expect clients at some point to put as much work into it as we do. We consider the work being done at the Healing Place and investment. Yes, we’re investing in people, but people are investing in themselves.

When you come here, it’s a real-time commitment. It’s an investment in yourself. And we know that anything in life that’s worth doing, takes time, and it’s an investment. And so, I like that piece of it. Everybody is so genuine and authentic. I love that about being around the Healing Place is that you can be who you are. We celebrate that uniqueness and also how everybody is here for the same reason and trying to accomplish the same goal. So, I don’t know. It’s just I buy into that. I sunk our clients and the people we work with and our staff here is just very authentic. We are who we are.

Zach: If you’re from Louisville and you’re in this space. You’re in a vellum place well. But can you explain to the listeners here just kind of how the Healing place works, the model that makes up the healing place, and the people that make that up? And why has it been proven to work so well?

Heather: How much time do you have? If our founder was Jay Davidson, I’ll be like, “Oh, no. It’s a three-hour tour.”

Zach: We can start there. We can start with Jay, please?

Heather: Jay came in not knowing anything about treatment, either. He got a social worker, fresh out of school, who came to work at a home list facility. And the way the Healing place started was very organic. It was a homeless facility that serves the homeless. There was the medical component with the greater goal of a medical society that provided health care services to the homeless population. What Jay discovered very quickly when he started working here was that our Folks were homeless because they had a problem with alcohol or drugs.

And so, that was the start of the Healing Place. It just started with a couple of beds and a couple of guys who had a little bit of sobriety, helping the guys behind them and pulling them along. And then the Healing place grew out of that. We still have our homeless shelter. We call it our overnight facility. That’s our overnight guests. That still will be a part of the Healing Place, no matter what. We still offer health care services to our population. That’s still a part of it with volunteer doctors.

But the model just really evolved to where it is now, which is a long-term residential recovery model. It is an abstinence base, and it’s also twelve-step-based. It is peer-to-peer work. So, you might have me a licensed clinical social worker. I oversee a lot of the programs and the processes but I’m generally not involved and neither are any of our other staff. Just to kind of oversee the process, we let the clients do the work for each other because one alcohol like helping another is the foundation of AA and we believe in that. We think you can’t beat that experiential piece. Our clients know each other even when they don’t know each other. It’s very unique.

Zach: One of the things that I know is that there’ve been quite a few people that have graduated from your program that have come to even work for us at Landmark. And some of those folks are in positions like one’s the executive director of a facility that’s owned by Landmark. To think that people that are homeless or that have this sort of piece around them that says you cannot be successful, which is what I walked in with, which a lot of people walk in with when they come into recovery because they’ve had so many mishaps and back steps since they’ve started there using? What do you also see are some of the most common barriers people face on their road to recovery?

Heather: I think it depends on the person. It depends on how long they’ve been addicted. There’s a lot of factors, right? But I think some common things that we see are what we’re calling the just social determinants of recovery. So, career, education, housing, transportation, and legal are all real barriers. It depends on, like I said, kind of your starting point and your baseline. How far down did you go before you reached recovery?

But we know that people struggle with finding a job or career that is both fulfilling to them and pays the bills that they struggle with finding affordable housing, getting a car, riding the bus, having felonies that may prevent them from accessing certain careers. It’s all of those components that I think we’re paying more attention to nowadays. I think more so than ever. But I think there’s still a lot of work to be done around those areas.

Zach: You’ve heard these two terms before. Recovery capital and social capital in what you’re speaking to?

Heather: How much someone has of each one is kind of going to determine? How easier it is for them to access resources? Yes.

Zach: Talk to us, Just the listeners, too, in terms of what your understanding of recovery capital is, by the way?

Heather: That’s just going to be what resources that you have in your life to support your recovery. That could be like, have you been in recovery before? Do you have a foundation and recovery? Do you have a good support system and recovery? What does your family look like? Do you have a supportive family? Is it a safe place for you to live? Do you have an employer that understands what recovery is and what addiction is? And are they aware of what’s going on with you? It’s going to fit into all of those components that make up all of our lives.

Zach: You mentioned, Heather, we’re starting to pay more attention to these things. Do you attribute anything in particular to why that is now? Is the pandemic? Is it the opiate use problem that people have? What do you think?

Heather: In our country, we tend to not fix problems until they become problems. We don’t focus on prevention like we have to wait until a lot of people get worse. We have to wait until a lot of people die to do anything. That sounds harsh but that’s what happens. We had an opioid epidemic and people were still in that. Overdose rates are up almost 50% last year. A lot of people had to die for people to be like, “Oh, we have not been approaching this in all the right ways.”

And so, I think that particularly before the pandemic, I think we were headed in the right direction and how we were beginning to address addiction and not looking at it as just a situation that needed to be addressed right then and there. It’s a process. Many things have to happen along that process or that journey in a person’s life. It’s not just about the treatment and the 30 days or the 60 days or the clinical groups. It’s so much more than that. People show that they start to care about that when they start to fund it. When there’s money coming to fund those services, then you know that people are starting to take notice that these things are needed.

Zach: From your perspective, someone like the governor of our state or the mayor of the city or whoever versus families that have lost people because of this. Either one of those between the two of those making one of the families are people in big positions of power, making a bigger impact on making this sort of wave change with realizing that, “Hey, you’re right. We have not been approaching this the right way.”

You probably see this. I’m sure all the time, at least in terms of your position with The Healing Place because you hear us so much. Do you see from a lens that you view the world as the head of programs? I guess I’m trying to ask this question. Who’s making the biggest impact in making this change with waking people up?

Heather: It’s a really tough question because the majority of people care about this because they have to, like, it’s just gotten so much attention. Particularly before the pandemic, I’ve just never seen so much attention on addiction. I think people are caring because they have to. I also think that most of them do care. The problem is that there are so many other things to pay attention to. There are so many other issues, and there’s only so much money to go around. I don’t think that there’s been the mayor or the governor or the President or whoever has had anyone single impact.


I think it’s going to be collective, like, pretty much anything else. And that, there are competing resources that need attention. We’re one of them. That’s why I think it’s really important for the Healing Place and Landmark and other addiction providers to not stop talking about it and to continue to say, “Hey, we’re here. Our people are still suffering. We still need all of these services. They’re important. These are people who are part of our community. And if you help them, it will be very impactful in our community in a positive way. But we need help.” And so, that’s just a tough question to answer.

Zach: If you have lost someone as a result of this thing as a result of the disease of addiction, I think that your investment or you’re buying to change things is going to be that much greater. Or even if your life has been affected by or a family member of yours has been affected by, what’s, in turn, affects you. I think that most people probably wonder what is the best thing that they can do, though, to affect change. Do you have any thoughts on that? Like, if you’re just like someone who’s like, “Man, I’m so sick of hearing about this because I’ve seen somebody being lost as a result of this. I want to do something.” What would you say, Heather? What would be one thing that they could do?

Heather: Are you going to keep asking me this?

Zach: Okay. I’ll start with this. So, NAMI, the National Association of Mental Illness, they’re having a walk. They’re having the NAMI walk and it’s in September. It’s a great example of just doing something very practical. Someone could go down to the river and walk with other families and just be with them for the morning or afternoon. And just know that you’re there in solidarity with other people doing something about this. Sorry. Go ahead.

Heather: I am about raising awareness. I think events like that are wonderful. But I think that we’re all pretty aware of what’s going on. And so, if you’re thinking about impractical terms, I’m just thinking about my own family, and my children. What I’m thinking is like because I work in this field and I see this and I’m like, this is the scariest thing in the world is I could be dealing with it with one of my children someday. That’s the scariest thing for any parent. I’m thinking what can I do to possibly prevent this from happening. I have young children. I already talked to them about drugs and alcohol. I’m already trying to do some of that preventative work that I know the school is not going to do.

I know that they’re not going to get in other places because I live this out every day. And so, I’m finding resources myself to start doing the work ahead of time. I think that if we can do more on the front end, then we prevent harm on the back end. I’m just really thinking practically. If I want to try to do something right now, that’s pretty easy to do is have conversations. Talk to my kids about it. Not be afraid to talk about the hard subjects and just be honest. I think when I was a kid, I didn’t feel like I got the real honest information about alcohol and drugs. Our society tends to glorify it and make it sound fun and exciting and cool but it’s not.

Zach: What does a conversation with Heather Gibson and her kids look like? How old are your kids? How soon did you start having these conversations? I’m just trying to get an example here.

Heather: I have a 19-year-old child. I have nine and almost seven-year-old children. The conversation with my 19 years old looks a lot different from the conversation with my seven-year-old. I’m just thinking about my oldest. In the last few years, it’s been about, “Listen, we know what your genetics say. We know because you know about family members. And here’s what science says about genetics. It’s not automatic but there’s a strong possibility. If you drink or use drugs or alcohol, you probably won’t get addicted the first time but there’s a strong chance that you could. That’s a conversation that I’ve had with her. We started that much earlier.

I just started having this conversation with them last year about good drugs and bad drugs and about when it’s okay to take drugs and when it’s not okay to take drugs and what taking drugs that a doctor says that you should take if you take too much of them, what can happen? So, it’s going to be based on their age. These are like car conversations. These are car conversations we have on trips. In the car, they’re not charged at all. They’re very low-key and conversational because I don’t want to also amplify it in any way. I just want them to have factual information, but I also don’t want to scare them. These are just the conversations we have driving on a road trip.

Zach: I think that’s the key. Once a kid starts to feel like they’re being accused of or they are being cornered, when I was a kid, when I was growing up in my house and my parents found whatever they found, beer, pot, whatever it was, number one, we didn’t have any conversations about dope or drugs or anything like that or alcohol before. But when I got caught, I read the riot act. I was like I’m learning here that I need to hide my drugs better.

Heather: That’s right. Don’t get caught.

Zach: It’s just like I’m the idiot here. What was I thinking? I think that’s brilliant to have those kinds of conversations early on but to bring them up in a way that allows for dialogue back and forth.

Heather: Yes. As I said, I have a teenage daughter. I learned how to do that a while ago, but it took some time and experience to learn how to do that.

Zach: Definitely. I want to talk to you. You mentioned some things about the healing place. I’m going to come back to the fact that you guys have been doing this for over 30 years. You guys have received the Healing Place National recognition for your long-term recovery approach. And for people that don’t know what that looks like or its meanings, can you break down what’s different about long-term recovery? Why is it such a game-changer in addiction treatment?

Heather: I think time makes the difference. I say this a lot of times. What we do at The Healing Place. I don’t want to give away all of our secrets, but it’s not rocket science. It’s a lot of basic stuff and time. Length of time is one of those things. If you think about anything that you’re trying to accomplish in life, it takes time to do that. If you want to learn a new skill, if you want to change a habit, if you want to incorporate something into your daily life, it takes a period to integrate that. I don’t know about you. But when I’m learning something or changing something, I make a lot of mistakes.

It takes me a while when I don’t fully understand it. I need people to give me feedback. It’s the same thing with what we do at The Healing Place is that we give that length of time. And while we’re helping people along their recovery path and helping them change their behaviors and learn new ways of doing things and coping mechanisms and how to be accountable to themselves and in their life. We know that they’re going to make mistakes along the way and that they need feedback and time to build up those skills. I think that’s a long-term recovery treatment. You need the length of time that matters.

Zach: You bring up a good point, too, about how we understand that people are going to make mistakes. That’s so important because I think it’s one of those things where if the person who is in recovery gets reinforced that belief that you’re going to fail, you’re going to make mistakes here. But the point is to keep moving forward, to keep going forward. Just because you have a setback, hopefully, it’s not a fatal setback, some of these substances that people are using today can have that one time but apart from a relapse that if you make a mistake here and there, you know what that’s normal like. I think that for most people who are in the recovery process, myself included, it’s taking a while to realize that.

Heather: I think people show up to treat the symptoms. That’s why people access treatment in the first place to treat the symptoms. I just need to go and I just need to stop using alcohol and drugs. But there’s so much more to that. Your brain has been fundamentally altered over some time due to alcohol and drugs. So, it’s going to take time for it to get back to normal functioning. People just expect to be able to come back and just everything should be just so and in place in 30 days. That’s nearly impossible.

Zach: Switching gears a little bit with September being a recovery month. When it comes to stigmas and misunderstandings about recovery, is there a topic that you’re particularly passionate about in which more people understand?

Heather: Yeah. I saw this question. I’m not sure how to answer because there still is a lot of stigmas with addiction but it’s becoming less. That’s a good thing. I think an area where there still needs to be a lot of work is in the workplace. I think that’s probably our most underserved population when it comes to addiction treatment. That we just got a lot of people out there functioning as alcoholics or addicts and in the workplace and on the job. And they’re just suffering every day because they don’t have any real alternatives.

Since they’re going to work every day and bring home a paycheck, and biting by the skin of their teeth that they’re all right. In our society, we don’t give. We wait for Folks to slide back to lose that job, to lose their home, to lose their family before we start caring or offering any kind of help. I think that reinforces just a societal belief and how we treat addiction is that we don’t see it as a disease fully still.

Zach: One of the things to just kind of building on that a little bit is that I hope that families also start to receive as much treatment as the patients do, the spouses, the partners, the people that are involved in these Folks live because often they are not given any sort of education or any kind of support. I don’t know where to start a lot of the time with these Folks even when they get sober.

Heather: I was just going to say when you said, even when they get sober, that can make it so much harder, even sometimes for families because they don’t know how to interact with their family members when they’re sober. I don’t understand what that looks like. It’s scary all the way around. It’s scary for a family when their loved one is an addict because they never know what’s going to happen. It’s scary for that family member when their loved one is in recovery because they don’t trust it.

They’re always waiting for the other shooting top. And so, families do need a lot of education. I think they need to know how to take care of themselves and how to care for themselves so that they just don’t stay so wrapped up in the individual with addiction. That’s just another area. I don’t know that family members feel like they have a lot of places to connect and talk about it more so than we ever did before, but still, definitely, an area to do a lot of work in.

Zach: My hope is at least with employers that they’re starting to see the loss in terms of just even dollars about Folks that go through the employment process. They get hired. Maybe they’ve been on for a little while. Maybe they’ve gone on for years. And then they start showing these signs that they’re not as productive. They’re missing work or whatever it is. That’s an opportunity there for the employer to jump in and make an intervention at that point and see that there’s just something up here. Education, these kinds of issues around what to look for, are opportunities right there for employers to jump in and make a difference.

Heather: Yeah, I agree. I know that the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is doing a lot of work around this issue because it’s a problem. We don’t have enough people here in Kentucky to work. Addiction impacted that.

Zach: It is.

Heather: That’s when I say we need everybody involved here. This isn’t just Landmark or the Healing Place doing this. This is our community. This is everybody.

Zach: One of the things, first of all, thank you, Heather, for coming on the show today. I want to mention, just to bring up your point, there’s a union that we work with. Anyway, they ended up telling us that there’s probably in the neighborhood of about 40 or 50 different open positions in this one particular role. And this is a job that has a pension. It has awesome benefits. It has time off each year and it pays well. And they cannot find people to fill these roles.

So, one of the things that we’re starting to do is look at Folks that get done with our alumni program at Landmark and are participating in our alumni program. They might need a job like that. There’s real talent in people who get into the recovery process because they’re hungry. They want to work. They want to get their lives together. And I hope that this is something that other recovery-oriented programs can also start to join forces with some of these employers on to provide, if anything, a talent pool for employers.

Heather: I think that’s going to be the trend in the next several years because for a couple of reasons it should be out of necessity. There’s a lot of research out there that says that people in recovery are more productive. They’re loyal. All of these great things that employers love.

Zach: We got it going on. That’s all there is, too.

Heather: That’s right.

Zach: You guys can check out The Healing Place and visit their website at TheHealingPlace.Org. Finally, if you know someone struggling with an addiction and you’re looking for resources, you can also visit us at LandmarkRecovery.com. Our website and blog are great sources for addiction-related content, but you can also find more information about treatment centers in your area or even speak with a recovery specialist 24/7. We would like to come alongside you on this journey. And thanks again for tuning into Recovery Radio. I’ll be here next week, joined by MJ. Gotlib. She’s the founder of the Lucid App. They are a digital platform celebrating the Silver Lifestyle. I want to stay tuned for that one. Until then. Take care, everyone.

Thank you for tuning in to Recovery Radio. New content for this program is available every Tuesday at twelve noon Eastern Time and 09:00 a.m. Pacific Time, with all episodes available on-demand on The Voice America Health and Wellness Channel and through our content partners iTunes, Stitcher, Tune In, and Google Play Podcasts. Please remember to subscribe, rate, and review so we can continue to create quality content to help save 1 million lives in the next 100 years. You don’t need to struggle through addiction alone. Live the life you’ve dreamt on the road to recovery.

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Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.

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