An Austin-based addiction recovery facility for women cleared one last legal hurdle blocking the owners’ attempts to expand as the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals voted to grant it a special use permit.

Gerald’s House, which is located at 176 N. LeClaire Avenue, is designed to provide women a safe, supportive environment where they can focus on recovery. It also works to connect them to whatever resources they need to improve their lives.

While the facility has been operating for a year and a half, getting a special use permit will allow it to accept more clients and apply for grants it wasn’t previously eligible for, said the facility’s founder Malcolm Brown.

Brown said that he started the project after his close friend, Herbert Fitzgerald Ballard, died of a drug overdose. He was determined to create a place where those who struggle with addiction could recover and rebuild their lives.

He formed the Herbert F. Ballard Foundation, and, three years ago, used his own money to buy a residential building. The facility’s name came from Ballard’s nickname, Gerald. Brown said that his facility is geared toward women because their recovery is especially important.

“I want women to be good mothers and good daughters, and that’s important because women are what makes the society [what it is],” he said. “I think women are the ones who do the most rearing and teaching in our society. They raise good men and I think women are the salt of the earth.”

After undergoing renovations, the facility’s basement now features a meeting room, where clients meet every weekday morning to meditate, share their goals and talk about their state of mind. It also has a computer space and a laundry room.

The first floor features a living room-style common space, a meeting room and a kitchen. While Brown provides pots, pans and silverware, it is up to the clients to buy ingredients and to cook.

There is a total of four bedrooms. Brown said that Gerald’s House can have up to 10 clients. As of Jan. 25, there were only three clients living in the facility.

In order to get admitted, clients must be at least 18 years old, employed or eligible for employment or supplemental income, and must have completed a 90-day treatment program. It costs $400 to get into the program, but once they pay that entry fee, the clients can stay as long as they need. Once moved in, everyone is assigned chores and the all of the clients work together to clean up the building on Saturdays.

Brown said that there’s a total of three staff members working at Gerald’s House, but they work in shifts, with at least one staff member on site at a time. The staff makes sure clients follows the rules, run activities and help connect them to resources. As Brown told the zoning board, his organization already has a relationship with one prominent West Side institution.

“[We are] working with Loretto Hospital so that, [when] there are things that I can’t offer, girls can go to other places, and those places agreed to let them come there free of charge,” he said.

Kay L., who declined to give her full last name, is one of the women who currently lives in Gerald’s House. She said she moved into the facility last November.

“In my recovery journey, I happened to be down in a treatment center in downtown Chicago,” she recalled. “I felt I was ready to leave there and I was given Malcolm’s phone as a possible place to go.”

Kay readily admitted that recovery was something she’s struggled with since 2012. It wasn’t her first recovery facility, but it was the one that impressed her the most.

“I love it,” she said. “This is definitely the most recovery-orientated, and the warmest, most welcoming, and definitely the cleanest I’ve ever been introduced to. Malcolm is very accessible and offers a great amount of support for us girls.”

Since moving in, she’s been working with the staffing agency. While Kay is happy with her progress, she said she didn’t see herself leaving Gerald’s House any time soon.

“Recovery is a journey,” she said. “I’m working on getting myself in a stable position, with my work, [my treatment], my financial stability. I’m working on getting that in order before getting in position to come back into society on my own.”

Brown explained that he has been funding the foundation with his own money. The special use permit would allow him to apply for grants and recruit more clients.

“I’d be able to offers services to [government] agencies, the Cook County Department of Corrections and numerous other [organizations],” Brown said. “I’d be more open to the public”

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...