A lifesaver

Co-Founder Hallie Burchinal outside of Compassionate Addiction Treatment
Co-founder Hallie Burchinal stands in front of the Compassionate Addiction Treatment building at 168 S. Division St. on Monday. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
‘A lifesaver’: Compassionate Addiction Treatment to host second annual fundraiser in support of their no-barrier programs

By Emma Epperly 

When Drew Matthews, 33, was living on the streets a place to charge his phone, get coffee and feel welcomed was rare.

That’s what he found at Compassionate Addiction Treatment.

“It was like a lifesaver sometimes,” Mathews said. “It kind of pushes you to want to get clean.”

Matthews was still using methamphetamine when he began stopping by CAT, the only barrier-free treatment center in Spokane, but the staff welcomed him in anyway.

A few months later when Matthews hit rock bottom, he knew where to go.

“I was just sick and tired of the streets,” said Matthews, who had been homeless on and off for years. “I was sick and tired of being afraid of everything.”

The drugs were “making me just crazy,” he said. “And I just wanted to stop going crazy.”

Counselors at CAT found a place for him at a detox center. Then he went into Pura Vida, sober living.

“And I’ve been clean ever since,” Matthews said earlier this week after more than a year of sobriety.

Compassionate Addiction Treatment opened in October 2019 with a small group of volunteers but has since grown to a team of 20, ahead of its second-annual fundraiser ”Hope-Full” on Sunday.

“We welcome people in whether they’re interested in being involved in programs or not,” said Hallie Burchinal, executive director and co-founder. “It’s just about engagement and building relationships. So the fundraiser is really about supporting that work.”

Over the past three years, CAT has served 2,200 people, 90% of them experiencing homelessness. Still about 50% of the people at CAT daily are not formally involved in programs, a stage CAT considers pre-treatment. They get water, coffee, a cigarette and a break from the danger of the streets. Eventually, when they’re ready for treatment, Burchinal hopes they’ll know the staff at CAT is there for them to give them support tailored to their specific situation and life-experience.

With so much need, CAT rapidly expanded the services it offers including medication assisted treatment, intensive outpatient treatment and employment and housing case management.

The nonprofit recently moved into a new building at 168 S. Division St., near multiple low-income apartment buildings and shelters, in hopes of being closer to those they serve.

Burchinal, who experienced addiction and homelessness herself, knew that building relationships with people before they’re ready for treatment would be a huge part of them eventually seeking the help they need.

“As that trust relationship is building people become more hopeful that they actually do have opportunity to work on recovery,” she said.

For people like Matthews that plan has worked.

CAT also employs peer counselors, who support people through treatment and have gone through the experience themselves. The peer counselors model good coping mechanisms for people in recovery.

While Matthews could have sought further treatment at a facility that had barriers like a sobriety requirement, he chose not to because of the staff at CAT, he said.

“I guess it’s because they’ve been through it,” Matthews said. “They were in my shoes and so I felt more comfortable.”

Other treatment providers often discharge people due to relapse, missed appointments, or marijuana use. CAT continues to treat people as they struggle, Burchinal said.

The CAT team hopes to raise $40,000 at the annual fundraiser to support a new program helping people getting out of jail into homelessness that started with the help of a McArthur Safety and Justice Grant.

Most people in active addiction sober up while in jail and begin to feel more clear-headed, but when they leave jail, there often isn’t anyone to pick them up or connect them with resources. If they’re released after area shelters close, they often don’t even have a safe place to sleep.

“Often people exit the jail with a goal” of getting sober, Burchinal said.

CAT hopes to take advantage of that moment to help people get on the right path.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a process in place to pick people up at the jail,”Burchinal said. “We hope to intercept and be able to get folks into a safe place to spend tonight and be able to work on continuing from there so they don’t fall back into the trap of being out there (on the streets).”

Part of the MacArthur grant was becoming certified to treat co-occurring conditions like addiction and mental health issues. The money raised from this year’s annual fundraiser will largely go continuing to develop the jail release program.

For Matthews, the past year has been full of healing. Through his employment and housing specialist at CAT, he has been able to focus on recovery this year with his housing paid for by grants and other community support programs, a fact he said helped him avoid relapse.

“if it wasn’t for those resources it probably would have got a lot harder if I had to work,” Matthews said. “I had a year of just being able to deal with me.”

He attends as many meetings as he can, meditates frequently, receives counseling. He spends most of his free time at CAT just hanging out, Matthews said.

This fall he will start at Spokane Falls Community College in addiction studies. He hopes to one day become a counselor and give back to others.

“I feel like being on the streets I haven’t got to my full potential and I feel like I owe myself that and I owe everyone that believed me in that,” Matthews said. “I want to get to that full potential and give back and be there for people like people have been there for me.”

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