CITY OF NEWBURGH – When she overdosed nearly 31 years ago and her house burned down, Susan Brisbois decided that was it. It was time to get help.
“You can’t get much worse than that,” Brisbois said recently.
Those incidents marked a turning point with her addictions to cocaine, heroin and alcohol. She nearly lost everything. The day after the fire, April 25, 1991, she quit drugs and alcohol cold turkey, sought treatment and never looked back.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said after the conclusion of a news conference recently at the city of Newburgh police department.
A small group of community stakeholders and volunteers, like Brisbois, gathered at the department on March 28 to announce the police’s participation in Hope Not Handcuffs. It joined 20 other Orange County police agencies that have become involved in the program over the past three years.
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Hope Not Handcuffs was started in 2017 by the Michigan-based Families Against Narcotics organization that seeks to help people battling addictions. In 2018, the town of Wallkill’s police department became the first police agency outside Michigan to participate. It established its Hope Not Handcuffs program by working with the nonprofit Tri-County Community Partnership.
At the requests of police departments, TCCP has helped jumpstart Hope Not Handcuffs at about 60 law enforcement agencies in Orange, Sullivan, Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester and Rockland counties.
Brisbois is one of about 20 volunteers, referred to as “angels,” who will answer calls for help in Newburgh.
All a person has to do is walk into the City of Newburgh Police Department and ask for help or call the program’s hotline: 833-428-4673 (HOPE).
A call would go out to an “angel” volunteer on standby, who would arrive within 20 to 30 minutes to help find nearby addiction treatment facilities. The trained volunteers assist with paperwork and a brief intake process. Transportation to treatment can be arranged, if needed.
While that is being sorted out, police provide care packages that include a change of clothes, food, water and other resources.
Police officers will also carry business cards with information about the program that they can hand out while they are working.
A key part of the program is treating people who need help with compassion and respect. But a person may be ineligible for the program if they have a felony or domestic violence warrant, pose a danger to others or have a medical condition that may need hospitalization.
The placement process can take minutes or hours to complete. It all depends on what is available, said Annette Kahrs, TCCP’s executive director.
But they’ve never turned away someone who qualifies, she said.
In the Hudson Valley, the program has helped more than 500 people in the area, including 250 so far this year, Kahrs said.
Within the past few weeks, police have seen people walking in and asking for help through Hope Not Handcuffs programs in Wappingers, the town of Newburgh and Liberty, Kahrs said.
“They’re coming again,” Kahrs said, referring to a decline in walk-ins during the pandemic.
And most of the people who have called the hotline seeking help did so after they spoke with a police officer about the program, she said.
Since volunteer Susan Brisbois became sober, she has made it her mission to help others battling addiction. She works in Middletown at RECAP, a regional community-based organization, and runs a sober house for women in Rifton, Ulster County.
She previously spent 15 years working for the Youth Advocate Program in Newburgh and four years with the city of Newburgh’s Drug Treatment Court. She specializes in relapse prevention.
“Change is possible,” Brisbois said. “The joy is in the journey.”
Ashley Nelson, another “angel” volunteer in Newburgh, said she has battled with her addictions to alcohol and marijuana.
Helping others who need help wresting control of their lives from the grips of addiction is part of her recovery, she said.
“They say in recovery that you can’t keep it unless you give it away,” Nelson said. “In order to hold onto it (sobriety), you have to give back.”
Hope Not Handcuffs is looking for more volunteers. For information, go to tricountycommunitypartnership.org/angel, call 833-428-4673 or email email@example.com.
Lana Bellamy covers Newburgh for the Times Herald-Record and USA Today Network. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.