Addiction recovery-oriented nonprofits in Houston provide virtual activities for vulnerable populations

Leaders at addiction support-related organizations said the pandemic has caused many emotional challenges for their clientele. (Photo illustration by Justin Howell/Community Impact Newspaper)
Leaders at addiction support-related organizations said the pandemic has caused many emotional challenges for their clientele. (Photo illustration by Justin Howell/Community Impact Newspaper)

Leaders at addiction support-related organizations said the pandemic has caused many emotional challenges for their clientele. (Photo illustration by Justin Howell/Community Impact Newspaper)

With the coronavirus pandemic eliminating the possibility of in-person meetings for addiction support groups, programming coordinators at recovery-oriented nonprofits for some of Houston’s most vulnerable populations are increasing their organizations’ virtual presences.

South Houston-based Buckner Family Hope Center at Reed Road is working with Ambassadors for Christ to help serve virtually those in addiction recovery, according to an April 30 news release. Buckner is hosting weekly addiction recovery classes via Zoom to foster a community of support while adhering to social distancing procedures as well as to remind clients of tools they can use when feeling triggered by events in their lives, Family Hope Center Director Dior Burns said.

“Staying committed to addiction recovery during this time is more difficult because many families are dealing with extra stress and pressures that they are not used to handling,” Burns said in the release. “Virtual video chat meetings support and encourage clients by assuring them they are not alone in their journey. When they see others with similar struggles, they feel more comfortable being vulnerable with the group.”

Kathy Griffin, the group facilitator with Ambassadors for Christ, said in the release that the virtual meetings are successful in maintaining productive recovery paths for clients. Group members are committed to changing their lives and are making the best of the current situation, she added.

Leaders at Lambda Center Houston, a recovery clubhouse for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, and The Women’s Home, a nonprofit that helps women reclaim stability through its treatment center and housing programs, said that isolation is dangerous for anyone dealing with addiction issues. The organizations have worked to combat the effects of this isolation through online activities.

The Women's Home CEO Anna Coffey said the organization has been reaching out to clients directly by phone to keep in touch and has moved almost all programming to virtual, including therapy and 12-step meetings for recovering addicts. The pandemic has caused a major upset in operations, and a challenging one, Coffey said.

The Women’s Home has a transitional housing program and two permanent housing programs, and Coffey said that women living in these communities, many of whom are living alone, have described their isolation as “crushing.”

“We have been getting a lot of feedback from them that they’re just very lonely,” she said. “It is challenging their sobriety. ... Addictions and mental health conditions thrive in isolation.”

Coffey said the organization expects substance abuse issues to skyrocket for this reason, making it even more difficult to have to curtail activities at a time when women increasingly need them.

The organization’s Montrose campus, a long-term treatment facility, relies heavily on group activities, which have been scaled back significantly given the pandemic. Some in-person activities are still being held with small groups, but a majority are now virtual, which Coffey said has been “a lifeline” for numerous women.

Lambda Center has been operating virtually since March 15, Board Chairman Martin Sunday said. Since then, there have been four virtual discussions a day: three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and one Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting.

The virtual meetings were put into place before Harris County enacted its stay-at-home order March 24 to accommodate people who were not comfortable coming into the center, Sunday said. The center has been in operation since the 1970s, hosting more than 65,000 recovery-oriented meetings per year.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community that utilize the center’s services could be more susceptible to the coronavirus because they are often immunocompromised, he said. The center chose to be cautious with in-person gatherings in mid-March for this reason. An outbreak among at-risk clients could decimate the city’s LGBTQ+ population, Sunday said.

“A lot of the people in [our LGBTQ+] community are older people, ... smokers, drug addicts, alcoholics—they’ve got compromised immune systems,” Sunday said.

Meeting start times range from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. People attend meetings to find support and hear potential solutions for dealing with the effects of isolation, he added.

Sunday echoed Coffey’s sentiment that the most difficult aspect of the pandemic for many addicts is its accompanying loneliness given social distancing measures.

“Loneliness is what causes relapse quite often,” he said.

The center launched a virtual hangout room that allows people to congregate and spend time with one another in lieu of in-person gatherings and social outings. Sunday said feedback on the room has so far been very positive.

As is the case with Family Hope Center clients, Sunday said Lambda Center clients coalesce around their shared crisis experiences, connecting with each other to learn new tools related to navigating life and maintaining sobriety. For example, the acronym HALT—which stands for “hungry, angry, lonely, tired”—is taught as a way to self-assess.

Although risk factors can negatively impact the physical and emotional health of LGBTQ+ people, Sunday said these factors mean the people that the Lambda Center serves are in some ways better prepared to weather their current situation with the coronavirus pandemic.

“In a way, we kind of have a leg up on the rest of the world right now,” Sunday said. “We’re already getting through the crisis we’ve had in our lives that it took for us to get sober and stay sober.”

Coffey also spoke of the ways their women clientele have come together to help each other in the face of another crisis. One client, she said, had recently been learning to read but lost access to the necessary resources due to the pandemic, so another client stepped in and picked up the lessons.

She encouraged Houstonians to extend a hand to anyone that they know may be at risk due to addiction issues during this time.

“The best thing that you can do is really reach out to them, let them know you’re there to support them [and] help them find other resources,” Coffey said. “The population really needs to have the extra support.”
By Colleen Ferguson
A native central New Yorker, Colleen Ferguson worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. Colleen graduated from Syracuse University in 2019, where she worked for the campus's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange, with a degree in Newspaper and Online Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a degree in Spanish language and culture. Colleen previously interned with The Journal News/lohud, where she covered the commute in the greater New York City area.



Following Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2 announcement that the statewide mask mandate and COVID-19-related business restrictions will be lifted as of March 10, Harris County and city of Houston leaders are weighing in, and local health care providers are urging residents to continue to take precautions. (Courtesy Pexels)
Harris County, Houston leaders call end of statewide mask mandate a 'distraction' from power grid failures

"At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Photo from inside a movie theater
Alamo Drafthouse files for bankruptcy, closes theaters in downtown Austin and New Braunfels

Most theaters will remain open under an asset purchase agreement to the company's senior lending partners.

As of 11:30 a.m. on March 2, eight areas across Harris County remained under boil water notice affecting about 2,300 residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Thousands in unincorporated Harris County remain under boil notices

As of 11:30 a.m. on March 2, eight areas across Harris County remained under boil water notice affecting about 2,300 residents.

Abbott's Executive Order GA-34 lifts the state's mask mandate, effective March 10, and notes that "public schools may operate as provided by, and under the minimum standard health protocols found in, guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency.” (Courtesy Pexels)
Clear Creek ISD's COVID-19 protocols, including masking, to remain in effect

As of the evening of March 2, all current CCISD public health protocols will remain in effect at district facilities and during district events.

Clear Creek ISD will pay each of its staffers either $250 or $500 by mid-April. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Clear Creek ISD to provide staff with one-time COVID-19 payments despite trustee objections

The payments, which are intended to recognize extra risks and efforts associated with working during the pandemic, will cost the district a total of $2.8 million. Trustees Michelle Davis and Scott Bowen opposed the payments due to the timing amid budgetary uncertainty.

frozen tree
One in 4 Houstonians experienced water leaks during winter freeze, new data finds

Houston Public Works fielded 11,000 calls related to water issues during and after the weather event.

The Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market is returning in person for its spring iteration. (Courtesy Jennifer Greene/HoustonBallet)
Houston Nutcracker Market to make in-person return this spring

Of the 150 merchants on the roster, nearly 50 will be making their spring debut in 2021.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced March 2 that mask mandates and business capacity restrictions will be lifted in Texas. (Courtesy Office of the Texas Governor)
Gov. Greg Abbott lifts statewide mask mandate, business restrictions in Texas

With vaccine distribution increasing, Gov. Greg Abbott said "people and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate." Some local officials are pushing back, saying the relaxed restrictions are coming too early.

Most of the electric grid in Texas is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is not linked to other interconnected national electrical systems. (Courtesy Electric Reliability Council of Texas)
Leaving the Texas power grid 'not likely to be an option' for Harris County, official says

Just two weeks after severe winter weather dropped Harris County temperatures below freezing for three consecutive days, which led to widespread power outages, loss of water and the deaths of at least 50 county residents, Harris County Commissioners Court called for major reform at the state level regarding the Texas power grid and related energy policies.

Mayor sylvester turner
Houston expanding vaccine supply as 6,000 Johnson & Johnson doses arrive March 2

The first shipment will be sent to the mass-vaccination site run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at NRG Stadium. The site vaccinates individuals who sign up for doses though the Houston Health Department’s vaccine waitlist.

Hank's Crab Shack gets and sells several hundred pounds of crawfish daily, especially during the peak of crawfish season. (Morgan Theophil/Community Impact Newspaper)
Hank's Crab Shack serving Katy; 16 Spring-Klein business updates and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

District officials shared storm damage photos at a Feb. 22 board meeting. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)
Clear Creek ISD updates: 82% of campuses sustained damage during winter storm, quarantine practices revised

District safety officials briefed trustees at a board meeting Feb. 22 about the extent of damages and gave other details related to CCISD’s storm responses. Of the 42 campuses, 37 sustained damages requiring immediate action, officials said.