The way Joseph Carroll sees it, he has a second chance at life with his family.
"I'll take that," Carroll, a 59-year-old Army veteran and father of four who brought back from Vietnam a propensity toward alcohol abuse.
Now, after a spell on the streets and a five-month stint at The Baltimore Station, a treatment center whose population is made up mostly of military veterans, Carroll plans to return to his wife in Portsmouth, Va., after Thanksgiving. "If she don't change her mind," he said, laughing.
"It's been an experience," he said of his stay at the center, housed in an old fire station on West Street in South Baltimore. "I'll never forget it. I needed a little structure in my life, which is happening. I got caught up in a situation which happened to bring me to homelessness. It's something that's new to me."
Carroll and a few dozen of his fellow veterans gathered yesterday outside the treatment center to watch Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Sheila Dixon, Rep. John P. Sarbanes, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and others break ground on a construction project that will double the size of the structure and enable it to house 100 residents, almost twice its current number.
"I can't think of a more appropriate place to be on this Veterans Day than here at The Baltimore Station," Cardin said, noting that there are 25 million veterans living in America as well as 1.2 million active-duty members of the military, about 200,000 of whom are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans, he said, have always been shortchanged.
"We haven't even done what we said we could do, and now we're trying to do the right thing," he said, referring to The Baltimore Station's expansion, which, when completed, will increase the center's space to 16,225 square feet. Foundations, private citizens and the Department of Veterans Affairs contributed nearly $4 million for the expansion. The center operates a second treatment facility, also in a former firehouse, in Seton Hill, and the combined annual budget is $1.2 million.
O'Malley said that one-third of Baltimore's homeless are veterans, some of whom, he said, "get their lives on a forward path" with the treatment center's help.
Donald Moaney, 72, who served in Korea as an Air Force mechanic and has been at The Baltimore Station since February recovering from an addiction to heroin, said that in the next few days he will start a new job, at the AFL-CIO's offices on Patapsco Avenue. In the treatment center, where he receives acupuncture therapy and takes part in group counseling, "they just want you to sit still and get some guidance for your life," he said.
Karen Hohlhoff, a retired nurse who has volunteered at The Baltimore Station for five years, said that most men in such programs "don't feel respected."
"You can't make an addict get better but you can support them," said Hohlhoff, who acknowledged learning such things from being married to a drug addict. "You can volunteer at a place like this and help them feel like valued human beings."
It's apparently working for Jimi Fardan, also a Vietnam veteran, who has been at The Baltimore Station for a year and who recently set up a Web site, www.pencilmania.net, to display his art. The treatment program has been "enormously helpful," said Fardan, 61, his beaming face framed by dreadlocks. "Every day we're getting a graduate class in addiction, and why we do what we do. For me, drugs at one point were the solution, and then they became the problem."
After the ceremony, the center's program manager, Laura Poindexter, called out to the residents milling by the buffet table, reminding them that the center was on "holiday schedule" and that they need not return until 10 p.m. "And I want all your urine samples to be clean!" she warned with a smile.
Steven Wilson said he didn't need persuading. "Now I feel I have direction and purpose," said Wilson, 55, a former military policeman and computer programs analyst who is fighting addictive behavior in his third stint at the center. "I couldn't maintain the professional appearance, the status. Thirty years went by just like that, and I have nothing to show for it. Now, I'm grounded. I finally landed."