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Southwest Philadelphia: Morris Home Provides Trans-Affirming Residency For Rehabilitation

Southwest Philadelphia: Morris Home Provides Trans-Affirming Residency For Rehabilitation
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Morris Home, located in Southwest Philadelphia, is a haven for individuals seeking refuge. The three-floored residence maintains a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility specifically for transgender individuals.

Started in 2011, the organization’s growth reflects the increasing strength and resilience demonstrated by its residents.

“We [Morris Home] offer short- and long-term rehab in a residential and family-oriented setting,” said Laura Sorensen, program director. “Morris Home is a place where people can access treatment, feel safe and have a chance to stabilize.”

The household provides eight individual beds for residents’ privacy. A multidisciplinary staff works with the residents to furnish an environment resembling community and home sentiments.  

“Drug and alcohol programs, that are not specifically for trans people or trans-competent, end up doing a lot of damage for trans people who try to get clean there,” said Kade Collins, therapist at Morris Home. “For example, a lot of places have made trans people dress and present in a way that they [staff] feel is congruent with their birth sex, which is extremely traumatic and disrespectful to trans people.”

The staff includes three tiers of administration, mental health therapy and recovery. Outreach programs spread the word about Morris Home and its services.

“It’s an open window to help me gather myself, to know who I am, to love myself and to respect myself so I don’t have to be out there prostituting and doing drugs,” said Whitney Morris, a second-time resident. “It gives me the opportunity to be all that I can be as a transgender woman.”

Therapists hold group sessions multiple times a day for a communal growth with the residents. Individual sessions are also provided to individualize and create intimacy. In addition, a recovery specialist is on call 24/7 for members.

“I really feel great and I thank God that I have an opportunity to actually take the benefits of Morris Home program and use them wisely this time,” Morris (below) said. “I’m 45, I have no more time to be running in and out of these facilities.”

Morris Home structures its programs around necessities for independent living.

“We are helping folks build their life skills — budgeting, laundry, nutrition and food prep,” Sorensen said. “We are building folks the skills they’re going to need to be successful back out in independent living.”

Morris Home offers assistance for members to find temporary or permanent housing after recovery. The nonprofit organization is a component of Resources for Human Development. RHD is a national human services nonprofit that supports those in need through programs in 14 states.

Programs help connect residents with community resources for them to transition into society soberly. Sorensen said members sometimes express their fears of acceptance and safe environments outside Morris Home.

The individuals residing, either short term or long term, have their stay covered with insurance, the majority through medical assistance.

“While folks are here, we make sure they are connected to primary care [and] seeing a regular medical provider,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen acknowledged the members’ need for hormones and the lack of professional medical prescription provision when they lived elsewhere.

“A lot of people have been using gray market hormones that are obtained on the street,” Sorensen said. These hormones are not reliable and can prove large medical risks and dangers to individuals, she said.

“We’re also doing a real harm reduction around high-risk behaviors,” Sorensen said. “A lot of our folks are sex workers or participating in other surviva economies. So we’re helping folks figure out how they can move safely through those worlds.”

The programs and staff interaction with the residents provides comfort during recovery.

“[There is] no other recovery program that helps the LGBT,” said Kourtney Turner, another resident. “They [the staff] help us and they are there for us like our regular family is.”

Every day is different in the program with group and individual therapy, chores and personal growth. Residents acknowledge that there is struggle when it comes to recovery and there’s a need for positivity.

“We are human, you have your ups and downs,” said resident Keshia Stanly.

Despite the hard work ahead, Stanly expressed gratitude for Morris Home.

“It is an organization and a place that you can go and get yourself together,” Stanly said smiling broadly. “You can live life and be who you want to be as a trans or whatever you want.”

Morris Home’s existence and purpose is unique to Philadelphia.

“My hope for the future of Morris Home is that we are a model that could be replicated other places,” Sorensen said. 

“We can share what’s working here and help other programs strengthen their trans-affirming services.”

The growth of Morris Home in structure and size is a goal for the organization.

“There definitely is a greater need than there are services in Philadelphia.”

– Text, video and images by Taylor Smethers and Allison Merchant

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