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Accessing Detox in the District

July 20, 2010

See if this sounds familiar to you:

I know I should work out more.  I keep intending to do so, but every time I set my mind to some new plan, something comes up.  I am great at getting in my own way.  Maybe it’s a busy week, so I decide to start next Monday.  Or I decide I’m going to go running in the mornings – just as soon as the weather cools down a bit.

Women who come to Calvary come ready to do the hard work of changing their lives.  They often face serious health challenges that might include mental illnesses, addictions and chronic health problems.  One of our most critical tasks is giving women the tools and support they need to make changes in their own lives.

But there are circumstances and services that are out of our control, barriers that we don’t create ourselves.  Women who are chemically dependent on drugs or alcohol require detox, a service that provides medical supervision during withdrawal to try to minimize the physical impacts of stopping use of that drug.  Unfortunately, recent rule changes have made it more difficult for some people to access that vital service in DC.

New restrictions to get into detox in DC require that the person has a license or nondriver ID from the District.*  Many women who come to Calvary have been living on the streets, in emergency shelters or in other circumstances that mean they may not have an ID.  Bags and wallets are stolen, or leaving violent situations women sometimes lose absolutely everything they own.

Though DC provides all homeless residents of the city with free nondriver IDs, new restrictions at the DMV require all ID applicants to have their long form birth certificates.  Calvary’s case managers regularly work with women to obtain birth certificates from the states in which they were born and IDs from DC, but the process can take weeks.

In the past detox services were accessible to women at programs like Calvary if they presented a letter from the program that explained the woman was a resident of DC who did not have ID at the time.  This gave people who needed this critical service access to it at the moment when they were ready to take the first step on the road to sobriety, not once they had their paperwork back from another state.

When I think of the incredible determination and effort it takes to get clean – especially for those who have been chemically dependent – it seems a serious shame that not having the right kind of ID could keep someone from a service she needs.  When that service is as vital as detox, as a community we need to make sure that people have access to it when they need it.

* To get into detox, you can also prove you are a DC resident by presenting a signed lease, voter registration card, utility bill or tax return, but people who have been homeless may not have these either.

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