ST. PETERSBURG — At 53, Luther Williams is back at the Mustard Seed Inn, the place where he sought help to recover from drug and alcohol abuse almost two decades ago.
He managed to stay clean for a few years, but gradually relapsed into a world of crack, alcohol and crime.
Williams vows that this second time at Mustard Seed, which provides transitional housing for homeless people recovering from substance abuse, will mark a new beginning in his life.
Mustard Seed is undergoing changes of its own. In April, the bulk of its operation was moved from its longtime home at 2510 Central Ave. to the two-story Davis-Bradley building at 1735 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S. That building houses the WestCare Community Involvement Center.
The belt-tightening measure puts Mustard Seed under the same roof with a residential treatment program for men, outpatient services for people referred by drug court and the Ryan White program for those with HIV. It also has the regional offices of WestCare, the organization that runs them all.
"With the funding environment being the way it is, we were looking at consolidating and being more economically efficient,'' said Jana Balicki, WestCare's area director.
For the time being, a handful of Mustard Seed residents — seven — remain at the old Central Avenue location in an independent living program. "We're really not sure how we will be able to continue that. The building is so old, and the rooms really need to be renovated,'' Balicki said.
"We are seeking funding to rehab the building to continue to provide services there, and we don't know how long that will take.''
Financial constraints also caused WestCare to cut staff at Mustard Seed, which has 64 beds. "We are struggling,'' Balicki said.
The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Public Defender's Office.
"We have a large population of vets that we serve. We also get referrals from the jail diversion program,'' Balicki said.
Mustard Seed residents, who can remain in the program for up to two years, are required to contribute 30 percent of their income for rent. Balicki noted, however, that for people recovering from addiction, it can be difficult to find and keep employment.
WestCare, a nonprofit behavioral health organization, took over the financially struggling Mustard Seed and an associated program, A Turning Point, in 2003. In 2009, it bought the Davis-Bradley building and assumed control of a men's residential treatment program. The men and women at Mustard Seed live separately from participants in that program.
Williams, who has five children and two grandchildren, is happy for a chance to return to Mustard Seed.
"I stayed clean for a few years. I was working at the ThunderDome at the time as a security officer. Unfortunately, I went back out … drinking and drugging,'' he said.
"It took 15 years for me to come back to the Mustard Seed.''
In the intervening years, Williams had a heart attack, triple bypass surgery and a battle with cancer. He also tried to beat drugs and alcohol on his own.
"I tried not letting anybody into my apartment, not going to the store, because it had beer. I even joined a church to try to come clean and stay clean in Christ,'' he said.
His readmission to Mustard Seed was preceded by a mandatory stay at A Turning Point, where homeless men and women go through detoxification in preparation for a recovery program. Williams was ready to enter Mustard Seed after three days.
"I plan to stay in recovery,'' he said. "This is why I came back home.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.