By Abby Hoover
Healing House, a faith-based addiction recovery organization on St. John Avenue, is expanding once again to provide additional services for its clients and the community. New businesses, including a full service salon and coffee shop, will open soon to provide job training to Healing House clients.
Founder and CEO Bobbi Jo Reed, whose own journey out of addiction is an inspiration for many of her clients, is excited to see the plans take shape – filling empty and neglected storefronts across from their main building at 4505 St. John Ave. in Historic Northeast.
Right now, the organization is housing about 190 people in recovery and about 30 children in properties throughout Indian Mound and surrounding neighborhoods.
“So we have 30 apartments right now, we have 13 houses, and we just took over a problem property over off 7th Street that’s right behind our apartment buildings,” Reed said. “It had been vacant for over a decade, slumlord, and our kids’ playground was on the other side of the fence and they’re seeing people over there going to the bathroom, doing drugs, all kinds of stuff. So we got that, we’re starting on that soon.”
Healing House is excited to partner with the Lykins Neighborhood Association, which is making strides in addressing blight and vacant property in the community.
The organization has also acquired the strip mall across the street from 4505 St. John Ave., which is currently home to Healing House’s Outreach Center, Shrunkin Head Tattoos and Body Piercings, and Guerrero Market.
The Outreach Center is open to anyone to attend recovery meetings – which are available in Spanish and English – and for job resources. They hope to expand the languages offered soon.
“Addiction is in every culture, and so we’re going to see what we can do with that,” Reed said.
Many prayers and a perfect opportunity led to Healing House purchasing the strip mall on St. John, which backs up to the Recovery Community Center. Reed said tenants of the building were getting high behind the building, which was triggering to those in the recovery programs.
“So I went and I asked them, I said, ‘You know, could you please quit smoking dope out here? It’s really affecting our people,’ and he said, ‘Whatever lady, move around.’ I thought, well, that’s rude,” Reed said.
Not two weeks later, she got a call from the out-of-town owner of the property. He had heard about the great things she was doing in Kansas City and offered to sell her the building. Initially, she didn’t consider it because it would be a large purchase, but he offered to finance it.
“It had four family apartments upstairs, which we need, and so I talked to my board and they said yes,” Reed said. “So immediately I did new leases, and it says no illegal drug use on or about the property, or loitering in the front.”
Eventually, all the businesses except the tattoo parlor and the corner store moved out. Now, the vacated spaces – and the apartments upstairs – have been renovated and are ready to serve a new purpose.
“The cool thing about that whole strip mall – we call it transformation station – our thoughts is let’s put in things that benefit our community, that will bring our community together more because you know what, if you don’t know your neighbor, you’re maybe not watching out for your neighbor, and the more people that we have that are in sync, the better,” Reed said.
Later this month, Healing House will open a full service beauty salon and spa – Head to Toe – offering pedicures, manicures, hair styling, a suntan booth, facials, eyelashes, massage, and acupuncture.
“Next to that we’re putting in a cafe, coffee house, with a juicery,” Reed said. “Kale drinks and protein powders and all that, and that’s going to kind of team up with our gym.”
First Step Fitness, 4602 St. John Ave., Healing House’s free gym, has grown to 590 members in the year it’s been open. They plan to make upgrades to their gym, cleaning up the basement to use for Zumba, dance and floor workout classes.
“We’re hoping to just keep it going so we can keep it free for everybody, so the protein and smoothies will go in conjunction with the people working out,” Reed said.
In the next two years, Healing House will open a free medical and dental clinic in the building. They’ll bring in volunteer doctors and dentists to treat people in the community.
“That’s my dream, and I pray that it’s going to happen,” Reed said. “We need it down here.”
In the same building as the gym, Healing House plans to open a thrift store, however the building needs a lot of work first.
“Under our basement in that part of the building they had a vault – the basement went completely under the sidewalk, it was supported by the basement,” Reed said. “There was nothing supporting the sidewalk, so what we’ve had to do is collapse the whole sidewalk. We’re building infrastructure, of course, we’ll be putting in new sidewalks, it’ll be safe.”
For many years, the roofing material hadn’t extended past the wall of the building, causing water to pour in between the facade and the structure. They’re working on removing the original facade, and replacing it with stucco and a mural of the hand of God reaching down.
“We want to do something, again, to bring people together, but it’s going to be so cool,” Reed said. “You could go get your hair done or get a haircut, you can go over and catch a meeting or go to the coffee house to get your drink, and it’s just all for the community.”
For now, they’ll continue hosting monthly garage sales to share their excess of gently used furniture and household good donations with the community.
“We understand a lot of people in the community are on Social Security or things like that, so we try to do it around the first of the month when people have some resources,” Reed said. “But we get beautiful stuff donated. We have our truck that goes and picks things up. With that stuff we can’t use immediately, if we’re not furnishing anything, we want to share with the community.”
Reed supports plans for a St. John Avenue Community Improvement District, especially with the addition of her new businesses.
“Part of the deal is we’re going to train people to be baristas, we’re going to train people to be juicers and food service workers, and so everything is geared for education for our folks so they have work experience,” Reed said.
Sometimes, those with substance use disorders end up with a lot of charges, and even prison time.
“Now, they can get their cosmetology degree while in prison, but now the barrier is you’re coming out so that’s where you got your certificate and a lot of places are not going to hire you right out of prison,” Reed said. “So this way they can have their own booth, build up their clientele and have some work experience out in the world before they go out to their own shop or work for someone else.”
Reed sees barriers for people all the time, and seeks to eliminate them. Healing House has started outpatient treatment, which some people are ordered by a court to attend, two nights a week at the Recovery Community Center. They began the program because they noticed their residents were getting up early for work, taking a bus to a different area of town to work, going from there to a treatment center, then getting home late.
“By the time they come home, it’s nine or 10 o’clock at night,” Reed said. “It’s not conducive to anybody’s life or recovery, so we started doing it here so people can hop on the bus, come home, eat dinner, and then have their three hours of outpatient treatment. So it’s a convenience for the people, and of course the people in the neighborhood can take advantage of this too, and they won’t have to pay.”
Healing House is celebrating its 20th anniversary later this year, and Reed knows one thing has contributed to their success in the neighborhood.
“We’ve always been really good neighbors,” Reed said. “We keep our places clean. We don’t take any violent offenders or people with sexual crimes. You know, there’ve been points where we’ve had some run-ins with our neighbors and really it was just getting together, talking it out, and working things out.”
In 20 years, Healing House has helped over 10,000 people.
“It’s incredible, it is,” Reed said. “I get to live around a bunch of miracles. Pretty cool job.”
Each spring they plant colorful flowers on each of their properties, and residents joined the Northeast community for a neighborhood cleanup this past weekend.
“We want to be a blessing to this community and not a hindrance, and our guys get out and shovel snow, we try to help neighbors and do what we can,” Reed said. “It was a process because people have this thinking, ‘Well, I don’t want a bunch of addicts living next to me or alcoholics,’ but the reality is we’ve got addicts in our community that are actively using.”
In the past 20 years, Reed has seen housing prices increase, while crime and drug use has slowly but steadily declined.
“I’d like to think that Healing House has been part of transforming this community to where it’s at now and we’re going to continue to transform,” Reed said. “I want this to be a great place for us all to live. This community is so diverse, I love it, and people are kind to one another, people are good, and I just want this to be a thriving community again like I’m sure it was at one point. I think it’s going to be an amazing place to live, it already is, but this is where I’m going to live until the Lord takes me home.”
The cafe will have a back door that leads to a big patio with a memorial garden connected to the Recovery Community Center at 112 N. Elmwood Ave.
“Anybody struggling with any kind of addiction can come in and get help, even somebody experienced homelessness or something, even if we can’t take them in our program, we have resources there to help them,” Reed said. “And we’ll help the uninsured, get what they need, whatever that might be, and that’s open to the public.”
There, Healing House has trauma-informed care counselors, employment specialists, daily groups on budgeting, art therapy, improv, relapse prevention, and more.
“That’s what I’m all about, just bringing us all together, and we’re even going to put a little stage up and we’ll have soft serve ice cream – we’re going to do Hawaiian Ice – we plan to have that and there’ll be a small stage in there for people to come in and play guitar or church, do something at night, it’ll be open so people have a safe, sober place to hang out,” Reed said.
For Reed, God drove the creation and growth of Healing House.
“From the jump, even when God put on my heart to start helping women, it was a constant burden on my heart that I needed to do something, and so I did it,” Reed said. “I thought I was going to help like 10 women a year, and then the dope dealer moved in next door and I prayed. A year and a half later, we got his house.”
From there, Healing House began buying other neglected properties surrounding their location in St. John.
“God has just continued, and at first I thought, a safe place to live, learn how to live in recovery, and that was going to be it: teach people how to live, but then the Lord has continued to show me what’s next,” Reed said. “We now offer parenting classes. It’s a six-week program. We have a licensed counselor that does that. We also have healing from domestic violence, and so any victims of domestic violence can come join those groups as well. We have healing from sexual assault.”
Healing House is trying to “cover all the bases,” to make it a one-stop shop for transforming lives.
The organization works with medicated assisted treatment, which some with substance use disorder use to relieve the withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings that cause chemical imbalances in the body.
Reed said Healing House’s program has a success rate of about 76%, which she said is unheard of.
“What we’re doing is really working, and one big part of it is that we operate as a family,” Reed said. “Everybody calls me mom, they don’t have to, it just automatically happens. We have 50 employees and 46 of the 50 have come through our program and now work here. They want to give away what they were given, and they’re trained. They’re certified peer specialists, trained by the state.”
Everyone who comes to Healing House is assessed, not just for treatment, but for mental and physical health needs.
“We actually help them go to those appointments,” Reed said, “We drop them off, we pick them back up. So to me, I’ve never thought about it being a handout, although we do charitable things to the community, it’s more of a hand up. We literally take people by the hand and walk through this journey with them until they can stand on their own.”
Reed is all about convenience, and believes each addition will help the community thrive.
“Yes, our people come in very unhealthy, but I see tons of refugees around here that I don’t believe are getting any medical support,” Reed said. “I think it’s a lack of knowledge. We have some organizations that do great work with refugees, but if it’s right here, more accessible.”
She’s met families in need from the community at Healing House’s school supplies giveaways, garage sales and just out on the street.
“I watched some of the African folks in winter and their children have sandals on and their feet have to be freezing, so I was able to snatch up a bunch of those snow boots and we gave them out,” Reed said. “We’re a charity, but I’ve always had the motto, ‘If you are blessed to have something, you need to share it with others.’”
“Our salon is beautiful, all brand new equipment,” Reed said. “So it’s a place you’re gonna walk into and you’re going to think you’re at the Plaza. It is so super nice.”
Another space in the strip mall will be temporarily used as a distribution center for a local small business, employing 10 Healing House residents. They’ve remodeled the apartments above the salon, and are working on the four above the gym.
“We had Emanuel Cleaver come in here one time and he said, ‘Do you know where the most important part of our city is?’ And he said, ‘It’s not the stadium. It’s not Nelson Art Gallery,’ he named some places and he said, ‘The most important part of our city is right here,’” Reed said.
Healing House will continue facade improvements on all their buildings along St. John Avenue. For updates on Healing House, join the newsletter email list at healinghouse.org.