Odyssey House Louisiana (OHL) is a nonprofit behavioral health care provider with an emphasis on addiction treatment. OHL was established in 1973 as a nonprofit residential substance abuse treatment facility with the mission of empowering people to conquer addiction. Today, Odyssey House offers a professional, structured and caring Therapeutic Community with comprehensive services and effective support systems that enable individuals to chart new lives and return to their communities as contributing members.
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They say old habits die hard, but a group of OHL graduates are proving that new habits learned while in treatment at Odyssey can stick with you just as easily. Just a few blocks away from the OHL campus at 1125 N. Tonti, a mini-Odyssey is brewing at the Duvernay Residence on Canal St. with six recent OHL graduates residing there, actively participating in recovery meetings, and providing each other constant support.
“It’s a miracle,” Duvernay resident and OHL graduate Jacqueline says of the opportunity for so many graduates to live close to each other after leaving OHL. “This place is definitely a benefit to our recovery. Outside, we still have to deal with New Orleans, we still have to deal with people selling drugs on the streets; but, in here, we have meetings and we can provide support for each other, be there for each other.”
The Duvernay Residence is part of Volunteers of America’s “Coming Back Home” initiative to create more than 1,000 affordable housing rental units for working families and residents of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Duvernay, intended to provide stable, affordable housing for formerly homeless adults, has 70 single-individual units with most individuals residing in these units also in recovery from former addictions. Individuals pay monthly rent for a secure residence, private bedrooms, full kitchen and laundry facilities, large open recreation areas, meeting rooms and even a library. Residents must be 90-days clean, have a sponsor, and income through employment. They are also required to participate in random drug tests and must go to recovery meetings three times a week such as Alcoholics Anonymous/ Narcotics Anonymous or Outpatient groups.
Jacqueline became employed with OHL after her graduation, and all other graduates living at Duvernay are employed, with the exception of one, a retired postal worker, who is on disability. OHL graduate Brian says of life after treatment, “Now I am allowed to look to the future. I have goals. While I was using, I said I had goals, but I never really did anything towards them. Now, I’m saving to buy a house.”
Living in Duvernay presents different opportunities for each OHL graduate. For Jacqueline, it’s the first time in her life that she is living completely on her own. Until she came to treatment, she had been relying on the familiarity of people and places that allowed her to feed old habits. Jacqueline says that Odyssey House taught her to be accountable for her life and her actions, and since August 2006, she has been proving to herself and to others that she can live on her own as both successful and sober. For Larry, another OHL graduate, life after treatment is almost the exact opposite. Larry describes himself as always being a loner, finding it difficult to meet and interact with people. “A few months ago, it would have been scary for me to even walk down Canal Street…too many people,” Larry says. However, over his time at Odyssey House, Larry says he learned to be part of a community and living at Duvernay with so many individuals who understand where he came from is like having a built-in fellowship and extended family that has allowed him to come out of his shell.
Jacqueline, Brian and Larry are truly exemplifying everything they learned while at Odyssey House and are living proof that treatment works. As Odyssey House spokespeople in their own right, these graduates were recently able to share their knowledge with a stranger who is currently in a place they once experienced.
While standing outside of Duvernay after their interview for this publication, a man obviously down on his luck walked up to the residence, unsuccessfully trying to get into the pass-key required entry. The man turned around and asked Brian, Jacqueline and Larry for directions- he was trying to find 1125 North Tonti; he heard he could get help there. Not understanding the laughter that greeted his quest for directions, the man asked, “Have any of you heard of 1125 North Tonti?”
“Yeah, we’ve all been there,” Jacqueline replied with tears in her eyes, “You can definitely get help there.”