Since the closure of Boston Harbor’s Long Island in October, there’s been much debate over how to care for the homeless people who resided there. But the island also hosted another 200 people in substance abuse recovery programs. In fact, Long Island housed about a third of the women’s recovery programs in Greater Boston. Now there’s a critical shortage of detox beds.
Jeannie and Rebecca are both 30 years old and could be any roommates trying to make lives in Boston.
They look happy, healthy, and stylish — an appearance that shows just how far they’ve come. The two are recovering from heroin addiction — a habit that Jeannie says almost killed her.
"I relapsed back in March of last year and I woke up with a breathing tube down my throat and lucky just to make it," she said.
Now, Jeannie and Rebecca consider themselves lucky to have ended up in jail instead of dead. While on probation, they were beginning to put their lives back together — living at the halfway house on Long Island.
“I was on the restriction phase, the beginning phase, where you just kind of stay in the house, get acclimated, get to know the girls, make dinner, phase 1-type of thing before you go out on job search,” Rebecca said.
“We woke up early," Jeannie said. "We would do meditation, read our daily books. I had 'phased,' so I was able to go out on job search every day but I was also allowed to come home early when I felt I needed to.”
They were in a residential treatment program called Hello House, run by Volunteers of America. It was working for Rebecca and Jeannie. But soon after moving in, they had to leave. The bridge to Long Island was suddenly closed, giving them just a few hours to evacuate.
“Nobody knew where we were going," Jeannie said. "We had staff there because we were part of a program so I felt like they kept us together and they kept us calm. But it was just a lot of chaos."
They were some of the two dozen women moved to a big old single-family house on a side street in Jamaica Plain. Its empty rooms reflect all the furniture and supplies that were left behind on Long Island.
"There was just a line, a sea of air mattresses," Jeannie said.
Hello House staff tried to keep schedules and routines consistent, even as they waited for the city to decide the future of the island.
“We are so focused on getting the clients the help that they need that it’s not possible for us to wait three years for us to reopen our programs,” said Stephanie Paauwe, director of development for Volunteers of America.
Paauwe says her organization has scrambled to find new locations for the two women’s homes and one youth home they left behind.
“We relocate the programs, work with the communities to let people know we run safe programs that are monitored 24 hours and they’re very structured," she said. "And the clients we see are very motivated.”
But these women are moving again — from JP to Dorchester, as Hello House finishes remodeling a new permanent home. Meanwhile, Jeannie and Rebecca are working restaurant jobs and paying rent. They have to be home by 6. Things are looking up, but they have lost some friends along the way.
“There was 21 of us leaving the house there are 7 of us now," Jeannie said. "Some, it was about their time to graduate, transition out. Some, it proved too much for them. Relapsed. They made that decision."
Rebecca says the upheaval caused by moving has also brought those who stayed together even closer.
“We’re like a family right now," she said. "We actually bicker like sisters but at the end of the day I know any one of them would probably stand in front of a bus for me."
That’s one bit of normalcy they welcome.