The heroin crisis has been plaguing Baltimore for years. The city has been called the 'heroin capital of the United States.'
It's not surprising that Charm City is home to some of the largest recovery and treatment facilities. The Helping Up Mission in Baltimore City is a celebration of success and beating the odds. Located on East Baltimore Street in Jonestown, the center is helping heroin addicts, like "Charles" get clean.
"I knew that I had to make a decision," Charles said. "I could no longer straddle the fence, it had to be the left or the right. Helping Up Mission was the right."
He walked into Helping Up Mission after years of using heroin. He's now two semesters away from graduating from the University of Baltimore.
Bob Gehman is the Mission's executive director. He said when men come to the Mission, they've been addicted to drugs for more than 20 years, on average.
"I like to think of Helping Up Mission as the last exit on a road that's going to a really bad ending," Gehman said.
The Mission can house 500 men at a time and it's always full. The men receive food, clothing and shelter in addition to daily counseling aimed at working to address deep-rooted issues that have led to addiction. en can even earn their GED if they didn't graduate from high school.
"We determined that we're going to provide whatever need an addict has while he's here, so he can focus on just his recovery," Gehman said.
The Mission has succeeded where other programs have failed. The different is the length of the men's stay, which is an entire year at the very least.
"And it's very structured," Gehman said. "And that structure enables someone to grow within it so that at a certain time they can leave and have sort of a management structure in their own heart and mind and be able to live without the Helping Up Mission structure."
"Bill" arrived seven months ago. He started getting high around 17, eventually trying heroin at age 27.
"I did construction because I could get high and go to work at the same time," he said.
In addition to the damage inflicted on his own body, Bill's addiction left relationships with his friends and family in ruins.
"When you're out getting high, life, it just turns gray," Bill said. "You have no passion, no desire, no drive. You're not doing anything. You're just going through the motions to get what you want."
Baltimore City's Health Department estimates there are 20,000 heroin addicts in the city. One way to treat addicts is with medication, typically methadone or other drugs like it.
Gehman said he believes those medications have a place in managing addiction, especially to overcome withdrawal as addicts try to get clean, but he aims to have addicts overcome the addiction and move forward without chemicals.
"John" went through the program, graduated and then relapsed.
"It's nasty our there," he said. "With all the stuff that's going on, the drugs. I overdosed like four times in five months."
He decided to start over and he's back again for another shot at recovery.
"I was doing great," John said. "I felt good last year. And then when I did get high, it's like kicking. I just want to kick myself in the teeth. Just threw that all down the toilet."
Part of the program is for the men to have what are called "work-therapy" assignments. The men work inside the Mission cooking, cleaning and doing other chores to readjust to life without heroin.
The Helping Up Mission would like to acquire more property to accommodate more men and even expand to open a women's mission at some point.