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Visitors enjoy a tour of the newly remodeled CLARE Foundation facilities on Pico Boulevard Thursday morning. The remodel will allow the drug and alcohol recovery center serve 300 more people each year. (photo by Brandon Wise)

PICO NEIGHBORHOOD — When your job entails helping people, some of whom have been homeless for years, kick their addiction to drugs or alcohol, the last thing you want to do is turn them away.

But that’s the painful decision senior counselor Michael Riches and his colleagues at the CLARE Foundation are forced to make daily because the demand for their services is so great, while their capacity to deliver help is not.

“One of the hardest things to do in this job is to look at someone who is hurting and tell them no,” said Riches, a recovering alcoholic who once was a client at CLARE, a nonprofit on Pico Boulevard that has offered treatment and recovery services in Santa Monica since 1970. “Many times these are people who have been living on the street, they are broken with low self-esteem and to say that we don’t have any beds for them is hard for me and everyone who works here.”

Riches knows he will be turning people away less frequently thanks to a $2 million renovation of CLARE’s detox/primary facility. The facility will provide food, shelter and a safe place to recover to over 1,500 people a year. That’s 300 more people a year that Riches can help on their difficult journey to sobriety.

The renovation, which was 10 years in the making, relied on funding from state and local agencies, foundations, corporations and numerous individuals.

For over 35 years, the two buildings that house the detox/primary facility were in poor shape and in serious need for an upgrade, said CLARE Executive Director Nicholas Vrataric. The buildings are 50 and 75 years old, respectively, and one is a former sports bar. The layout was not conducive to providing services, let alone residential treatment and the buildings were decaying.

“The conditions of the buildings did not match the quality of treatment our clients were receiving,” Vrataric said.

The reconstruction will provide ample meeting and counseling space as well as a welcoming atmosphere for individuals seeking recovery.

CLARE is a critical partner in City Hall’s efforts to reduce the number of people living on the streets, said Julie Rusk, City Hall’s human resources director. Police officers and service providers refer homeless individuals to CLARE.

Since 1980, City Hall has provided CLARE with over $3 million in grants. CLARE’s first grant from City Hall was $22,000 for the Senior Citizen Alcohol Program. In the mid ‘80s the grant steadily increased to over $80,000, and City Hall now provides CLARE with over $160,000 annually in operating support.

City Hall recently provided $255,000 to help CLARE rehabilitate an old apartment building that will be home to an integrated women’s recovery center.

“For years, I have watched your CLARE babies bitch about the rules, complain about the chores,” Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown said, “and they learned to listen and they’ve kept coming back and 90 percent of them have finished your program and have gone on to live in the community and have a job and become productive members of Santa Monica and the regional community.

“What a benefit that has been to all of us.”

Ralph Mechur of Ralph Mechur Architects was in charge of the remodel and said he wanted to create a space that was welcoming, soothing and conducive to recovery. The new interior is a far cry from the old one, which he described as “dingy.”

The remodel will definitely help with the recovery, Riches said.

“To come into a place that’s clean after living on the streets pushing carts around will be a big help,” he said. “Having a clean and safe place to recover will go a long way in helping them realize they can also become a part of society again by embracing a clean way of living.”

kevinh@smdp.com

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