‘New Joelyn’s Home’ women’s shelter opens in Roxbury

Kelly Rapoza tried detox, intensive outpatient programs and Alcoholics Anonymous, but she still couldn’t kick her struggle with alcoholism. Sick, homeless and having recently lost custody of her young son, she entered yet another detox program in 2014, and from there she transitioned into Joelyn’s Family Home, a residential treatment facility on Boston Harbor’s Long Island.

She says Victory Programs’ recovery treatment at Joelyn’s Family Home was the first thing that worked for her. However, five months later the home closed, along with the island’s homeless shelter and other treatment centers when the only bridge connecting the island to Greater Boston was abruptly shut down by the city due to structural concerns.

But on May 18, Rapoza—now sober, in permanent housing and with custody of her son—cut the ribbon at the grand opening of New Joelyn’s Home in Roxbury, flanked by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Gov. Charlie Baker, the Home’s Program Director Henryce Jackson-Gumes and several other city and state officials.

With Thursday’s opening of the 24-bed women’s residential recovery home, all of the state-funded recovery beds lost in 2014 have been replaced. Victory Programs, the nonprofit that operates New Joelyn’s Home, is still two beds short of its original 47 beds on the island, but expansions by other organizations will make up the difference.

“I’m so happy. It’s so hard to get a bed for women,” Rapoza said in an interview. “For Victory Programs to do that again and have another Joelyn’s, it’s such a huge part of what helped me get sober. I’m just excited for other women to be able to get that chance.”

Walsh said the city hadn’t wanted to close the Long Island Bridge but that the loss of the island’s facilities forced Boston to reevaluate its efforts in the fight against homelessness and addiction.

“One of the proudest things we have done as an administration in the last three years is house 1,146 chronically homeless people,” he said. “Many of those folks that we’ve had were addicts and alcoholics.”

A mix of loans, grants and donations—primarily from the city of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and an anonymous foundation called Mass Housing—and Victory Programs itself funded the over $3 million cost of the new property and its renovations.

The three-story Victorian home will have staff members present 24/7, and residents will participate in mandatory weekly counseling sessions and group programs.

At the time of the grand opening, eight women had already moved into the home. Deputy Director of Victory Health Eileen Maguire said the waiting list for the facility was large and that they expected to admit about seven more clients the following week and fill the rest of the beds the week after that.

“Due to the grand opening and due to letting staff and clients feel out the kinks of the program, we’re trying to stagger it,” Maguire said.

She said that for the first month of their stay, clients will participate in several groups per day and stay in the home constantly, barring urgent need for medical attention.

After the first month, they will leave during the day to work or go to school, and eventually they will look for permanent housing. Maguire said that in prior programs, people would leave the house after anywhere from four to 12 months, 12 being the limit.

She said many of the women who come to Victory Programs’ residential facilities are referred there out of detox, jail or a shorter inpatient program but that anyone could contact the organization for help finding the right treatment option.

Gov. Baker emphasized in his speech that the opioid addiction crisis in the United States was a medical issue and largely fueled by the healthcare industry.

Baker said, “You can’t write 80 percent of the world’s opioid prescriptions when you only have 5 percent of the world’s population and not expect any consequences to that.”

He reflected that people constantly tell him about the ways addiction has touched their lives.

“It affects everyone… This is an ‘us’ issue and not a ‘them’ issue,” he said. “We are going to continue to be with you and beat this down.”

Nathanael King is an intern and writer with Spare Change News.