Kensington: Local Organization Offers Residents a Fresh Start]

A view of the neighborhood was seen from the inside of the Fresh Start headquarters.

Fresh Start Foundation is a transitional housing and treatment facility which offers a haven for those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. In an area like Kensington, which has long been notorious for drug trafficking in Philadelphia, Fresh Start offers hope and a chance for recovery.

John Walls, a recovered addict, founded Fresh Start in 1989 after meeting countless addicts with a desire to recover but no place to go. Walls was almost forced to start the Foundation because he had taken in and was helping an unsustainable amount number of addicts in his own home.

The small beginning evolved into a large organization with several homes scattered throughout the city. Fresh Start operates with 280 beds and services approximately 800 men and women every year.

Fresh Start uses the Twelve-Step Program as a set of guiding principles which was originally proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939. In addition to steps such as admitting there is a problem and recognizing a “higher power,” the process also emphasizes helping others who suffer from the same addictions.

Former Fresh Start resident and current Director of the Women’s Program, Jodi McDermott said, “Through a community living environment, we encourage them [the residents] to support each other. If you want to maintain sobriety, you need to learn how to build a support network.”

A support network is exactly what most residents have found. Current resident, Rebecca A., 26, said, “If I had gone home or to somebody else’s house, I probably wouldn’t have been as serious as I am here. It’s better being around a bunch of women that are here for the same reasons.”

Fresh Start is located at the 3000 block of Frankford Ave., just over a half-mile from one of the cities most well-known drug corners, Kensington Ave. and Somerset St. According to the Fresh Start Foundation, it has been found that “engaging men and women on their own turf, so to speak, has better results with regards to offering services, resources and support.”

Resident Jamie D., drew a heart on her hand to remind herself that love is her “higher power”.

Kensington resident, Jamie D., 30, is currently living in one of Fresh Start’s many facilities. After going through “cushy” rehab facilities in Florida, she is happy to find an organization that provides a local place for her to face her addiction. “I have to learn how to be clean at home. My husband is here, my life is here, everything is here. I might as well learn to get clean in the neighborhood that I got dirty,” Jamie said.

McDermott also faced a similar experience. “The only time I came to Kensington was to get drugs when I was using and now I live here because this is where I got clean. This is where I stay.”

“I’ve been using drugs for 17 years,” Jamie D said. After being administered drugs such as Methadone and Suboxone, which are used for the treatment of opioid dependence, she says, “they’re just overpriced Band-Aids that get you addicted to something new.” For her, Fresh Start’s approach has been infinitely more effective. “This is the first time it’s working. I’ve got 90 days and it’s the longest I’ve had in 17 years.”

Though there is support and a set of trusted guidelines, it is ultimately an individual’s persistence and determination that gets them through the program successfully. With the threat of losing her husband, Jamie D. found that motivation. “I had nothing. I had no family, no friends and nobody gave two shits . . . but I stayed and gradually I’ve started to rebuild things.”

Flowers decorate the kitchen in one of the numerous houses provided for recovering addicts.

Fresh Start cannot take in everyone who comes to their door, though they work hard to offer their services to as many as possible. Upon filling out an application, prospective residents are subjected to a face-to-face interview. To participate in the program, they are required to have a photo I.D. and some source of established income. Upon acceptance, the residents are put into gender-specific housing for a period of 90 days.

The houses maintain a semi-structured supportive environment, with a weekday curfew at 10 p.m., mandatory daily meetings and overnight passes on weekends. It is there that they can, through the support of community and the effectiveness of the Twelve-Step Program, begin to regain control over their lives.

“Putting down the drug is the easy part,” says McDermott. “When you’ve lived your whole life in a certain environment, you don’t think there’s anything else out there. It’s all you know. People have to help you learn that there are other things available. There’s another way to live.”

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