In a nice, quiet neighborhood, nestled between two apartment buildings and tucked behind a small shopping center, lies a special kind of home. This four-level residence comfortably fits 12 people, with rooms holding up to two or three beds each. But only women stay here.
Nilsson House, a Morgan State University neighbor, is one of just a few certified and government-funded halfway houses for women who are recovering drug users in the city of Baltimore. Open to women of all ages, Nilsson is a safe haven for those seeking refuge from their battles with substance abuse. The setup provides long-term housing and helps women transition to sober living.
“They give you a lot of support here. They don’t stress you about money. They don’t ride you. They let you get comfortable,” said one of Nilsson’s newest residents. The older woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has been to a few halfway houses, but is determined to make this one her last. “The PA’s [physician assistant] are always here, so you can talk to them anytime you want. Most [halfway] houses have a house manager. You get one house manager all day. You don’t get that here. They talk to you and treat you like a person.”
Treatment at Nilsson House is equivalent to that given at outpatient clinics. Women are given a six-month window to stay clean and learn all that they can about drug education and relapse prevention. Staffers also teach life skills and provide other tools and resources so that the women have a good place to start before they move on to transitional housing and back out into the world. Because management does not want to see the women return home after their stay, some are oftentimes given extensions until they can find a safe place to go.
Each day, the women must be up by 5 a.m. and be ready to start their day by 6 a.m. From 6-6:30 a.m. residents have morning meditation. Afterwards, most women leave to either attend meetings, go to work, school or other appointments. However, the site manager must know about their whereabouts at all times.
The women must be back in by 5 p.m. for dinner and ‘family time,’ and inside for good by their curfew time. For the first month, curfew is at 8 p.m. It goes up each month thereafter until it reaches 11 p.m. during the week and 12 a.m. on the weekend.
“Because they lived so irresponsibly in the past, this is a true eye-opener for so many women,” said Robin Missouri, the site manager for the Nilsson House, referring to many women’s reactions to the house rules and regulations. “There is a reason for everything.” Ms. Missouri, as the women call her, wears many hats as she is also the counselor, case manager and the person in charge of keeping records of charts, recruitment and finances in the house.
Nilsson House provides food, cleaning supplies, personal supplies and anything else the women need in order to live comfortably. Women with specific preferences are allowed to buy their own supplies. There are no televisions allowed on the second and third floors, where the bedrooms are, but there is one on the main floor and another in the basement for the women to watch.
“I tell the ladies this is their house. Even though we have a basic structure that we have to follow, that doesn’t bend much with anything,” Ms. Missouri said. All the women are assigned chores and cooking days. The main thing is to make the residents feel at home and have them comfortable enough that they will want to stay. “But if they see something that they feel can be improved or changed, they can come to me and we can talk about it. Maybe it can be changed,” continued Ms. Missouri.
On the wall by the stairs leading to the rooms are 12 posters outlining the steps that the women must take in order to complete their treatment. The second and third floors have three bedrooms and one bathroom each. The women can decorate their rooms as they please and are allowed to have radios inside them.
In the past, most women were referred to the Nilsson by Tuerk House, its parent organization. Tuerk House no longer receives many clients, so the women now come from many different places like methadone clinics, drug court, jails or from the city’s referral service, Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems (BSAS).
Tuerk House is a non-profit substance abuse treatment program. Established in 1970, Tuerk House provides residential and outpatient treatments and operates four recovery centers: Tuerk House main campus, Weisman-Kaplan House, Howard County House, and the Nilsson House. Weisma-Kaplann & Howard County Houses are both halfway houses for men only.
Nilsson House is about a five minute drive and a 20 minute walk from Morgan State University. Ms. Missouri said that any Morgan students or family member who needed help in this area should contact her. “It is especially hard to find halfway houses for women,” said Ms. Missouri. The site manager is so dedicated to her job that she goes to outside sources in search of women who need assistance. “Since they [Tuerk House] don’t have as many clients to send us…I have to go to outside sources. I make a lot of phone calls,” said Ms. Missouri. Women who end up at Nilsson House will get more than a place to help with their drug battles; they’ll find a home.