In the 1970s, a Bethlehem, PA. school teacher named Anita Amigo wanted to do something to help her students who were arrested for drug offenses. She found her solution in Puerto Rico.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 76.9 percent of drug offenders are rearrested within five years of release and jail time alone will not help a reoccurring drug issue, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But in Puerto Rico, Amigo found an organization, Hogar Crea, that offered a better option. Hogar Crea creates a space where substance abusers can live, work, receive therapy to reintegrate into the community and educate the community about addiction.
Amigo brought Hogar Crea to Pennsylvania in 1981 and there are currently five locations between Allentown, Bethlehem, Reading, and Lancaster. Two of the five facilities are for women and three for men.
Entering Hogar Crea in Freemansburg, PA, there was an overwhelming sense of home with offers of tea, coffee, or water to whomever steps through the doors. Iris Martinez, the facility project director grew up in Bethlehem and has been a part of Hogar Crea her entire life. Martinez walked into the living room and announced to the men who were seated in various couches surrounding a TV watching the Eagles game that she had brought candy canes. The residents cheered and one came to grab the box and hugged her. She motioned toward the Christmas tree in the corner of the room that was brightly colored and decorated by all the men collectively.
Martinez explained that the residents come from all different backgrounds with a variety of health issues. Thanks to a license from the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs that they recieved in 2016, licensed professionals like Martinez can come in and provide counseling to the residents. Some of the men have been living in the house for two to three months but some, like Danny Rodriguez, have been in out of the program for many years. The men said that Hogar Crea helped them better themselves and be a part of society again while remaining substance free.
“Addiction is no joke,” Rodriguez frankly stated, “it stops your growth mentally.”
“Being in Crea uniform is like a force field,” says Dean Martinez.
Upon entering Hogar Crea, a resident must read the rulebook, which many attribute as the key to their success and rehabilitation. Rodriguez said that reading the book is like looking in a mirror. “The philosophy was well built,” says Rodriguez. “A lot of people have tried to find something wrong with it and couldn’t. It was very well put together on what is an addict. We identify so much about ourselves in there.” Other therapies include education therapy, group therapy, occupational therapy, civility therapy, and the residents favorite, sales therapy.
Hogar Crea, which translates to “community for the re-education of addicts,” is a nonprofit organization funded through the residents selling goods, such as an, throughout the Lehigh Valley. But, sales therapy, as they call it, is more than just making money. Sales therapy is one of the biggest parts of recovery at Hogar Crea. It allows the residents to practice their skills by engaging with the community and is also a time when the residents test their resolve in the midst of temptation. Rodriguez says they walk past drugs and drug dealers on the streets all the time. Some of the people on the street will offer the residents drugs and some will ask to be brought to Hogar Crea for help. “Being in Crea uniform is like a force field,” says Dean Martinez.
Stefan Weber says that “working with the community makes you feel a part of something other than yourself. It is the biggest thing that helps me.” Sales therapy also teaches the residents a sense of responsibility because the money they earn is needed to keep the facility open.
Dean Martinez said he spent most of his life in and out of jail and tried multiple rehabilitation programs but nothing helped until he came to Hogar Crea. He is now out of prison for seven years, a record for him. Martinez said he has gained control over his temper and has more patience, responsibility and confidence from his experience at Hogar Crea.
Out of the 19 residents in the Freemansburg facility, only two are first time residents. Hogar Crea has an open door policy allowing people to come back as many times as they need. There is also no time limit on a resident’s stay at Hogar Crea. If a former resident feels like they are going to relapse, or they already have, they can come back to Crea to “recharge their batteries,” as Rodriguez says. The only way to be kicked out it is break the first rule: no fighting. But, even then the resident is transferred to a different location and not kicked out of the program entirely.
Hogar Crea has an open door policy allowing people to come back as many times as they need.
Miguel Gonzalez, the supervisor of the Hogar Crea in Freemansburg, and a former resident of the treatment program at Hogar Crea, sees the positive support from the community when residents go door to door selling an. Gonzalez explains that the residents have a newfound politeness in society and have learned how to function substance free within the community. If they ever encounter a dif cult person they simple say “God bless” and leave.
Substance abuse has wide roots affected families without discrimination. Because of that, Gonzalez believes communities are quick to embrace those who are struggling to get better.
For the residents, the Hogar Crea philosophy provides a sense of belonging and they see themselves as members of their communities. But it all starts with knowing there is a place that will always leave the door open. ♦