Steve Morris was 12 years old when he began to drink beer and smoke marijuana. By the time he was 15, he was also taking amphetamines, PCP and heroin and committing strong-arm robberies to support his habits.
On his 18th birthday, Morris drank a six-pack of beer and injected himself with a large dose of amphetamines, or speed, which caused a brief seizure.
"I was really out of it. I was lost in the head," Morris said of the day that he legally became an adult. Fearing that he might die from a drug overdose, he checked himself into a hospital.
'Hold Onto My Sobriety'
A month later Morris moved into a recovery home for adults with alcohol and drug addictions run by Community Living for Alcoholics by Rehabilitation and Education, otherwise known as the Clare Foundation. "I needed to learn how to hold onto my sobriety," he said.
Now 19, a healthy and lucid Morris is emphatic about the need to help the Clare Foundation raise money for the establishment of a voluntary recovery home for teen-agers hooked on alcohol and illegal drugs.
"I can't stress how important it is," said the tall, blond Morris. "I wish there was a place like this instead of jails and institutions when I was going through my teens."
Fund-Raising Drive Begins
Late last month the foundation kicked off a drive to raise $500,000. About $150,000 would be used to renovate and expand an apartment building the foundation owns at 844 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica so it can be converted into a recovery home for teen-agers.
The rest of the money would be used to construct a 36-bed adult recovery home nearby. The Clare Foundation, which was established in 1971, runs residential facilities for recovering adults, single mothers and a residential detoxification unit. There are 160 residential beds in the programs run by the foundation, said Clare's executive director, Ken Schonlau.
The foundation also runs numerous other non-residential programs with its $1.6-million budget, including a teen drop-in center in Santa Monica. About half of the foundation's money comes from grants from the county and other local governments. The rest of the money is raised through donations and fund-raising events.
Spokeswoman Mirandi Babitz said the foundation has already obtained a county grant of $270,000 to fund the day-to-day operations of the teen home, which will be voluntary and free for the participants, including homeless youths.
This is the first time the county has granted funding for such a program, said Julie Frederick, assistant director of alcoholism programs for Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. "It is a new program. It's on the cutting edge," Frederick said of the teen recovery home. "Clare has done a wide variety of things, and I think they show a lot of initiative."
Schonlau said the Clare Foundation has long recognized the need for a teen recovery home but that this is the first time it has been able to obtain both a site and operating funds.
"We've made efforts in the past but have always had problems with locations or funding," he said.
However, Morris acknowledged that based on his experiences, the Clare Foundation's proposed 18-bed facility, which foundation officials say should open by Sept. 1, will not make much of a dent in the number of teen-agers with addiction problems.
"It's just phenomenal how many kids are using drugs and drinking and have a problem with it," Morris said. "There are the kids whose parents are millionaires and who stay out snorting drugs and then go home. And there are also the kids on the streets that use drugs and stay away from home. Any family can have a drug user in it."
Frederick said it is estimated that as many as 7%, or about 57,000, of Los Angeles County's estimated 815,000 residents between the ages of 15 and 20 years have alcohol-related problems.
Lee Forte, program director for the county's Santa Monica Mental Health Service, confirmed that there is a shortage of beds for adolescents recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. "Beds for adolescents and children are very hard to come by," Forte said.
Recovery homes for addicted teen-agers are more necessary than ever before because people start their addictions at a younger age than in the past, said Susan Bott, 54, manager of youth programs for the Clare Foundation.
'Morals Are Looser'
"A teen-ager has a lot more pressure today than I did when I was growing up," Bott, a recovered alcoholic, said. "I started drinking when I was 21. The morals are looser today."
Teen-agers entering the proposed home must be willing to stay for six to 12 months while they learn how to remain sober and pick up the pieces of their lives, Bott said. During their stay, tutors will be brought in to help them recover lost ground at school.