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Meta House Residential Treatment Center

A fuzzy stuffed polar bear and a colorful textile collage are the first things catch your gaze as a bedroom door in Meta House swings open. “One of the women made that,” exclaims Meta House’s Director of Development and Public Outreach, Catherine E. Jorgens, about the felt artwork hanging on the sky-blue wall. On a crisp morning, Jorgens provided a tour of one of the two Victorian-style dwellings on the 2600 block of Bremen Street that Meta House operates for the residential treatment of women who face issues with substance abuse. As she explains while providing glimpses of both the dormitory-style bedrooms and the large kitchen where the women cook communal dinners, Meta House is “the only facility in Wisconsin to actually treat the effects of maternal substance abuse and provide both housing and treatment for children.” Meta House is well-recognized on the national level — but not as well known locally — for their style of treatment, a method that Jorgens refers to as “gender-responsive treatment.” “Traditional treatment was really designed to treat men,” she says. Meta House as an agency was founded in ’63 (the Bremen Street residences were purchased from St. Casimir in 1988) by a group of people who recognized that there wasn’t any kind of treatment specifically geared for women. Women have much better rates of successfully staying clean, Jorgens says, if treatment methods are used that address the physical, emotional, and practical realities of a woman’s life. Because 92 percent of the women who came through Meta House’s doors in 2003 were either pregnant or already had children, the treatment program emphasizes ways women can live substance-free lives in the context of their families. And children who are 10-years-old or younger, Jorgens points out, can live with their mothers while they are at Meta House in residential treatment. Another factor that counselors such as Christine Ullstrup, Manager of Residential Services, address through gender-responsive treatment is the reality that substance abuse is physically a different experience for women. “When women drink alcohol, it is absorbed faster into their body than it is for men–it’s going to affect their bodily organs faster,” Ullstrup points out after Jorgens’ tour. Ullstrup, who graduated from the residential treatment program at Meta house nine years ago and went on to earn her master’s degree in social work, says that because 70 to 80 percent of the women who come to Meta House have suffered from sexual assault and childhood abuse issues, they often proceed to physical dependence faster because they are “using the drugs and alcohol to treat their traumatic stuff.” What does daily treatment look like for the 38 women who live at the two residential centers on Bremen Street? “It looks like a full-time job,” Jorgens stresses. “It’s that level of commitment–you’ll find there’s not much hanging around here.” A sideways glance down the empty hallways backs up Jorgens’ assertion, and as the weekly schedule taped to the nearby bulletin board confirms, most of the women at are behind closed doors in groups of 8-10 in various program meetings taught by certified counselors and therapists. Meta House’s programs include, among others, Alcohol or Drug Abuse (AODA) Education, Literacy and GED, Pre/postnatal Care, Relapse Prevention, Life Skills and Nutrition, and Job Readiness Preparation. “There are so many ways to spend a dollar–here we really try to focus our resources on a smaller number of women and provide long-term, lasting service.” It is not uncommon for women at Meta House to remain in residential, 24-hour-per-day treatment for five or six months; the promotional literature provided by Meta House attests to the success of their treatment methods: A five-year study showed that over 83 percent of their graduates were drug and alcohol-free four to twelve months after leaving the program. The study also found that most of these women also were living with at least one of their children. One of these successful graduates is Joyce, an energetic woman in her early 40s who pulls up a chair to chat with Jorgens. Joyce wears an infectious smile on her face, but as she tells her story, it becomes clear that the struggle that Meta House has helped her win has been an arduous one. Joyce sought treatment for substance abuse–marijuana–in 1994 at another treatment center after using for almost 14 years. She completed the program but relapsed after 30 days and started smoking crack cocaine. “I wasn’t in the program for myself,” she says with a wide-eyed nod. “It was for my mother and my family. I had always been co-dependent on them.” Nineteen months ago, Joyce tried again, this time as an outpatient client at Meta House’s office at Prospect and North. When she relapsed again, the counselors decided that the more intense residential program would be a better fit for Joyce. Her three-month stay at the facility on Bremen Street included a smorgasbord of programs, including AODA, parenting, and literacy classes, and another program, “Processing” that taught her how to recognize her “triggers,” specific things that cause her to be more likely to use again. Although she describes her time in residential treatment away from her then-12-year-old daughter (who stayed with a relative) as “really, really hard,” Joyce has now moved on to a future that will include employment and lifelong learning. She wastes no time in telling Jorgens the good news–she has been accepted into a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program and has found a literacy program that will fit around her class schedule. And of course Joyce is happy that she is finally getting some furniture for her apartment in Meta House’s transitional living apartments on 1st and Locust, where she has lived with her daughter since August. Members of the public who are interested in taking a tour of the residential facilities on Bremen Street or who want to donate items can contact Catherine Jorgens at 414/977-5807 or email Meta House will be holding a community service clean-up day September 25 at 10 a.m. There will be punch and cookies on-site, and people can stop by to help with annual maintenance or learn more about Meta House. Meta House also seeks committed, long-term volunteers who are able to act as mentors and tutors.