I was a resident at the Van Ness House almost 20 years ago and I'm shocked to see the head of the facility is still there. Disappointing.
The positive: It's a nice large facility built in an old Hollywood Mansion. Please, don't mistake this to mean luxurious. I'm sure at one time the likely once glorious home fell into disrepair, but it has been whipped into shape into a comfortable, mostly utilitarian facility. There's enough of the old charm there to give it character. The shared rooms are comfortable, as are the living and dining rooms.
Residents are well fed. Three hardy meals and plenty of fruit and healthy snacks sit out to grab throughout the day.
The staff and their "unique" style of brutalizing recovery out of people is what I remember so disheartening. Like many, if not most, past residents, I was thrown out at one point. I was asked a question during a group session, was told I was a liar and placed on probation. (I'm an alcoholic, I'm a born liar, but it was not true at that session) A few days later I walked into an AA meeting at the exact time it was scheduled to start. Since we were expected to be early, or at least prompt. I was thrown out. This is not about sour grapes. My sponsor had me well connected, and I was given assistance until I was allowed back in. Many are not so lucky. Sadly, this is the Van Ness format. Excessive regulations, name calling, and punishment, to rid the house of those who aren't "humble" to save the ones who are. The challenge is being humble is an act at the house because you are always walking on eggshells. Is telling the truth being humble, or saying what the staff wants to hear? This is probably the most nerve-wracking part of living there. Speaking truth is not important. Speaking the staff's truth, whatever it may be at the moment, is.
If I sound disjointed it's because it's difficult putting the Van Ness House environment into words. Imagine how difficult it is to comprehend in the very earliest days off sobriety.
Humility, and being humble are the words tossed around most at this facility. As one frustrated former board member told me, they keep seeming to forget humility is in Step 7. How can a 12-step recovery house get this so wrong.
You'll find plenty of people in LA (probably thousands) who are grateful for the Van Ness House for helping them get sober. I have little doubt you'll find an equal number who, like me, are grateful for their sobriety despite their experience at the Van Ness House. I was definitely at my bottom to have wanted sobriety so badly that I kept it after having been there.
What makes me sad when I think of the Van Ness House, is not the many who have had a bad experience, such as myself, I'm more concerned about those who returned to homelessness, or worse, because they were thrown out for not knowing the right word at the right time. You're told to be honest, but God only knows what words will come out of your mouth after the lightening round that goes on in your brain in the few seconds you try to figure out what the staff wants to hear.
It's a horribly negative, feisty environment, where residents are frequently encouraged to turn on each other. Many have gone there because they had no other choice. If that's the case, its better than drinking. If you have a choice to go elsewhere. Anywhere. Take it.