Andre Johnson reports that 19 years ago, “I was panhandling, snatching purses, stealing, and selling drugs to support my habit of four years.” Today, Johnson serves as president and CEO of the Detroit Recovery Project, an agency centered on facilitating recovery by identifying and resolving practical barriers to maintaining a life free of addiction. “The Detroit Recovery Project is a one-stop shop where people in recovery can come regardless of how long they've been clean,” Johnson says.
Johnson's current role appears to be an ideal fit for someone whose own recovery was assisted by the experiences of those who came into treatment before him. Recalling the time when he was the youngest person in a treatment facility at the age of 18, Johnson emphasizes the critical support he received from staff and other clients at the time: “Everyone there adopted me, showering me with love.”
Among the vast array of services Johnson now oversees are peer-based mentoring, housing assistance (including first and last month's rent), employment counseling, and educational activities. The Project's 13 staff members and a cadre of peer mentors are all well-trained in relapse prevention. Johnson is careful to clarify that the project, encompassing four sites and 2,500 to 3,000 people served a year, does not operate as a treatment center. “We are a support system for people once they exit [treatment],” he says.
Path to recovery
Johnson quips that his own path toward recovery led him “from the crack house, to SHAR House (a Michigan treatment facility), to Morehouse (the prestigious college in Georgia).”
He first entered treatment after being arrested for selling drugs to an undercover police officer. Following five months in the treatment center at 18, Johnson began to study for his GED. After attending a community college, he moved on to Morehouse, where he received a bachelor's degree in psychology, and later pursued a master's degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix.
In 2001, while working in management for the Partnership for a Drug Free Detroit, Johnson attended an addiction conference where he and colleagues discussed the types of supports needed for those on their way out of treatment. Johnson likens the typical practice of placing someone back into the community after a lengthy treatment stay to “putting a fish in dirty water.” He adds, “Recovery has to be treated as if it is a chronic illness; you can't give it a Band-Aid approach.”
That year, the Partnership applied for a Recovery Community Services Program grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Although the application was unsuccessful, the Partnership remained committed to the ideas laid out in the grant proposal, allocating $100,000 that year to establishing a subgroup that would be known as the Detroit Recovery Project.
The Partnership asked that Johnson lead the new effort because of his commitment to the provision of recovery support services. Johnson says that after the first year of funding, the Detroit Recovery Project “took on a life of its own, and had to spin off.” In 2002, he and colleagues successfully reapplied under the SAMHSA grant program, receiving more than $1 million. Although the SAMHSA funding has since ended, Johnson says the Project's sustainability has been furthered through local and state funds.
The Project has recently established several new initiatives in an effort to meet the emerging service needs of people in recovery. In June it tapped into funding from the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency to begin addressing a highly underserved population: ex-offenders with co-occurring disorders. “These individuals are being recycled in the system because their mental health disorders are not being treated,” Johnson says. The Project's effort will focus on connecting individuals with services prior to release from custody.
In addition, Johnson describes a “newly focused health component” to the Detroit Recovery Project. By forging connections with the city's Health Department, the Project has been able to provide individuals in recovery with hepatitis vaccinations, HIV testing, and courses on nutrition, fitness, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
“A lot of people are starting to appreciate the work we're doing in the community, and believing in the power [of recovery support services],” Johnson says.
Kristen Quinlan, PhD, is a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.