Pennsylvania: Getting Clean

An eight-bed residential drug and alcohol treatment center for transgender adults is opening in Philadelphia. In addition to experiencing high rates of substance abuse and other health problems, transgender individuals are diagnosed with HIV at quadruple the national rate, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. One in four black transgender people has HIV -- nearly 40 times the national rate.

"I would have gotten clean a lot sooner if there had been a place where I could go and be understood and treated like a human being," said Erik Leiff, a peer specialist with Morris Home, a nondescript, newly furnished row house on Woodland Avenue. The facility has about 10 employees, most identifying as transgender, and will be staffed 24 hours a day.

"I've had patients -- because of the responses of other residents -- who have left the programs that they've been in and relapsed," said Dan Karasic, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco.

Officials expect most Morris Home residents will come from shelters or the street, and many will lack insurance. Medicaid reimbursements are expected to account for most of the center's nearly $800,000 annual budget. The employees have been training and tidying up the house while the state Department of Health completes final reviews for issuing a license.

In addition to substance abuse, Morris Home will treat "anxiety, trauma, PTSD and other behavioral challenges," said Sadé Ali, a deputy city commissioner of behavioral health. Medical care will be offered through an affiliated health center. The Philadelphia-based national nonprofit Resources for Human Development will operate the home. To build affinity with the community, Morris Home's name honors Nizah Morris, a local transgender entertainer murdered in 2002.