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Casa de Palmas

January 1, 2010
by root
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Tucson, Arizona
The all-female staff at the Casa de Palmas residential facility for women were so focused on creating a home-like atmosphere that they even included in the décor a fireplace, in a part of the country that might call for its use on fewer than a handful of days most years.

But the overall message to residents has worked at the center, a one-story brick house on the outskirts of one of Tucson's most established neighborhoods. Open for about 18 months, Casa de Palmas is seen as offering women a comfortable space for getting to know themselves and for deriving benefit from the support of other women.

“We want the women to know that this is a safe place, where they can take off their makeup if they want to and work with other women to come back from addiction,” says Chris O'Dell, who became Casa de Palmas' program director in early January.

It is also communicated that the center serves as an ideal treatment site for women who can afford to pay for their treatment to an extent, but at a lower cost than what other residential facilities typically charge. O'Dell says treatment costs $10,000 for the average 30-day stay at Casa de Palmas. The other women's facility run by the same management team, a longtime presence in Tucson known as The Haven, serves clients receiving public benefits. Another difference between the two locations is that The Haven has the capacity for women to be accompanied by their children while in treatment, which is not the case at Casa de Palmas.

With its beamed ceilings and liberal use of browns, golds and oranges in the color scheme, the home has the airy feel of a cottage or lodge, O'Dell says. “If you walked through the front door for the first time, you'd think you were in someone's home,” she says.

Women in group sessions sit on high-back wing chairs or small rockers, not the nondescript seating one might find in most centers' group rooms. The area where the women congregate the most is the open space that consists of the living and dining areas and kitchen. A corner floor-to-ceiling window in the living area looks out onto a backyard and patio area, which includes some exercise equipment for the residents' use. O'Dell talks of plans to grow a vegetable garden.

The house also rests a stone's throw from a large city park that includes a zoo, a municipal golf course and some “amazing walk paths,” O'Dell says, giving the women ample opportunities for outdoor activity and reflection in the surrounding community.

“We're right on the edge of the neighborhood,” O'Dell says. “There have been no complaints about us from residents. We keep to ourselves.”

On one end of the house are three large bedrooms, two of which have a shared bathroom and the other of which has a separate bathroom off it. The house's capacity is seven, offering a prime opportunity for the residents to bond over the course of their 30-day stay.

The all-female staff essentially created the environment of the house out of their own design preferences, O'Dell says. It reinforces a message of comfort and safety.

“The women are amazed when they come in, because they don't expect a really nice house,” she says. “Our people are very welcoming here. It is empowering of women to support women.”

PHOTOGRAPHY: William Lesch Addiction Professional 2010 January-February;8(1):30-33