The Detroit Recovery Project enjoys a close relationship with government entities, with funding for its recovery housing and community initiatives coming from a combination of federal, state and local sources. In 2008 the organization received donated property from Wayne County, Michigan, to establish a recovery home for men in the Detroit-area community of Highland Park, but that was where the organization’s fortunes took a turn for the worse.
After $25,000 of renovations to transform a dilapidated two-story home into a four-bed residence for men emerging from addiction treatment, the Detroit Recovery Project learned it had run afoul of Highland Park’s local ordinances. At issue in particular is a brightly colored mural painted along an entire side of the house, emblazoned with the words “Recovery Starts Here”; CEO Andre Johnson says an artist in long-term recovery translated his vision into artwork designed to empower a community beset by drugs and violence.
Johnson admits that his organization “put the cart before the horse” and didn’t follow local protocol in its makeover of the abandoned home. But he adds that he thinks city leaders should be trying to work with him to bring a needed service to the community, rather than put up roadblocks. Johnson currently finds himself preparing for a Jan. 11 court appearance over the offending artwork.
“A big challenge in our area is when people leave treatment programs, there is a lack of supportive services, so they go right back to their former surroundings,” says Johnson, who says his organization operates similar programs in Detroit and elsewhere in Highland Park as well. “You can’t take a clean fish and put it in dirty water and expect it to stay clean.”
Johnson says his organization received the property in October 2008, and it took about five months in early 2009 to transform a site that squatters had overtaken. “There were holes in the walls, and all the wire, copper and plumbing fixtures had been stolen,” he says.
The Detroit Recovery Project typically furnishes its residences with new furniture, a flat-screen television and computer equipment, and paints the interiors in soothing earth tones. “We’ve taken pride in our facilities,” Johnson says. The organization has not been barred from operating at the new site, but at this point only one resident and a house manager are living there amid the dispute with the city, Johnson says.
When interviewed this week, Johnson had just returned to his office from a meeting at the mayor’s office, and admitted to feeling discouraged, saying, “The City Council appears to have, not a grudge, but they’re contentious about us being in that area.”