In designing the first alcohol and drug halfway house for adolescents in the state of Pennsylvania, officials at Gateway Rehabilitation Center remained mindful of the needs and preferences of the young males who would be residing there. By the time the facility reaches its capacity of 24, it will project the image of a caring environment in which young men take the next important step in recovery.
“One thing we know about adolescent boys is they need to run around a little bit,” says Jill Perry, director of Gateway's extended care services division. “We have a lot of nature and outside space surrounding the building. These youths are comfortable being outside.”
Inside a house, “Young adolescent boys will tend to get cluttered and have trouble focusing, so we have built in a lot of open space,” Perry says.
Liberty Station opened in mid-November with its first two residents. The house, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and far removed from Gateway's more institutional main treatment campus, is intended to serve young males who have been in primary treatment and need about three to nine months of transitional service that emphasizes resuming interaction with the community (school, workplace, etc.). The house features many comforts of home, including a spacious kitchen and room for reading and work activities, but all this comes with strict responsibilities for the residents.
“The kitchen is functional and efficient, and our guys will be doing all the maintaining, from shopping to storage,” Perry says. “They'll need to say, ‘We're having a beef roast tomorrow night, so we need to take it out of the freezer tonight.’”
Most residents will live in double rooms on the top floor of the two-story house; the bedrooms feature neutral, soothing colors and home-like but masculine bed linens. The group rooms feature a green background that promotes balance and healing.
Perry worked in the past as a detox therapist and always remarked that the hospital-like environment of the detox setting made it difficult for patients to feel relaxed. The halfway house setting, assisting individuals who are much further along in their recovery, can create a more comfortable atmosphere while still reinforcing that clients need to continue their hard work, she says.
While there is a need for certain security measures in the group housing environment, Perry emphasizes that these features have been designed to minimize intrusiveness. Locks on the bathroom vanities don't have a prison-like look. Three dozen security cameras located around common areas of the building are barely noticeable to the casual observer. “This can't be uncomfortable,” Perry says she told the contractor who installed the cameras. “It has to blend in.”
Gateway has plans to have an art teacher work with the youths to improve their skills and help enhance the house décor at the same time. Residents’ artwork will be on display in the building, and there are plans to create murals for some large walls that are now bare.
Features outside the house include a ropes course that will help program leaders reinforce physical activity as well as teamwork among residents.
With the need for 24-hour staffing in the house, planners have had to take care to integrate staff offices and living space in the most efficient way possible. This sometimes calls for modifications from original plans, such as when it was determined that one particular staff office adjacent to a group room could pose a distraction for residents during group sessions.
“Our patients are here for a long time, so we want to make this feel as much like home as it can,” Perry says. “Still, we have to be careful with that—they can get too comfortable. This is not a vacation.”