Milestone Recovery

By Patricia McCarthy

Milestone Recovery stands out for running the only non-profit medical detox program in southern Maine and the area’s only homeless shelter for men struggling with substance use disorders. And for the past 53 years, it’s been known for providing compassionate care even when patients can’t pay.

But lesser known is the fact that Milestone practices what it preaches about the value of second chances – and in no small way. In fact, at least 40 percent of its 70 employees are in recovery from addictions, many having gone through Milestone programs themselves.

Kirk Carlsen, 55, is one such employee. After treatment at Milestone’s long-term residential program in Old Orchard Beach for six months in 2013, he was hired as an attendant at its 41-bed shelter in Portland. Two-hour commutes on three buses never bothered him, he says, because he was so grateful for the job and chance to give back.

He’s made a lot of that opportunity, gaining confidence and progressing to a supervisory role – Milestone’s housing specialist, working with community agencies to secure permanent housing for homeless people.

“There’s no end to what can be done here. Every day is a challenge, but I love it,” says Kirk, who understands “lonely, very dark times” of most clients, having battled through addictions much of his life. “The job and the recovery path I’m on go hand in hand, I’m always going to pay back what was given to me here tenfold, and the work environment is second to none.”

That’s a culture Milestone’s managers take pride in cultivating, and it’s been recognized. In 2019, Milestone was voted one of the Best Places to Work in Maine by the Society for Human Resource Management. And its employees – from shelter cooks to nurses to outreach workers – that provide the ratings.

“We’re not judgmental and our employees know that, and that’s really important to them,” says Marianne Sensale-Guerin, director of finance and administration, who left a corporate job for Milestone six years ago after seeing her daughter through opiate addiction.

“And they understand that gratification doesn’t come from the monetary end of things. It comes from the mission.” Workers also appreciate the lengths to which their employer goes to break barriers. Milestone routinely works through appeals and waiver processes for potential employees with spotty backgrounds who otherwise would be disqualified for state supported jobs. “We also recognize that relapse is part of recovery, and if that does happen, we support our employees and bring them back,” Marianne notes. “A lot of companies won’t.”

Bob Fowler, who has spent 30 years working with people with substance use disorders, calls his last six as Milestone’s executive director the most challenging and best of his career.

“We see tremendously talented people who don’t survive this disease, and that’s really hard,” he says, adding that it’s also tough operating a nonprofit when reimbursement rates don’t keep up with costs and other resources are strained.

“The highs are high and the lows are low. The flip side is that I have the opportunity to see people whose lives are in disarray find recovery. We work with some walking, talking miracles. So that’s tremendously gratifying.”

Beyond its 16-bed detox program and shelter on India Street in Portland and its longer-term treatment program for 16 men in Old Orchard (and two recovery houses for men on that site), Milestone also operates:

• Mary Dowd House, a recovery house in Portland for 10 women.
• A Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement program. The HOME Team does community outreach to help homeless people who have mental health, substance or behavior problems. The team responds to calls that otherwise would be handled by Portland police, fire or MEDCU workers, makes rounds to homeless encampments, transports people to the hospital or Milestone, does case management work and more.
• A Housing Navigator Program, in collaboration with MaineHousing, that helps people experiencing chronic homelessness find permanent housing.
• A new program developed in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services that allows peer navigators in recovery themselves to help people moving out of detox into their next level of care, be that sober living, additional treatment or permanent housing.

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