In Miami in the Summer of 1983, a group of 18 recovering individuals got together, rented a little house on NE 17th Street and opened a 12 Step Recovery house called Better Way. It was a place where men, though 'down and out', but trying to stay clean and sober, could find a bed, a shower and some encouragement for their recovery.
The group incorporated as the "Better Way Foundation" the following year. In the next few years they would move the house to several rented sites, the last of which was a former crack house on 24th Street in very poor shape. The group struggled to keep it going, beset with little money, management troubles and one crisis after another. Nonetheless, it took those no one else wanted, held on to its 12 Step Recovery approach and provided a needed service to a city which had few alternatives for its homeless citizens.
In addition to the work of its founders the organization was helped by many who, selflessly, gave their time and effort. Camillus House, and the Brothers of the Good Shepherd, particularly Brother Harry Somerville, strongly supported Better Way and helped to shape its mission and direction. There were dedicated members of the early boards, such as Livia Garcia, who actually used her house as collateral for funds to help the organization out of a tight spot! Claire Madam, Mario Jordon and his staff at the Northwest Dade Center, Dan Carzoli and many others lent their experience and their resources to keep it going. Many came and went when they recognized what a 'Catch22' situation the program was in. It couldn't attract the funding it needed for renovation or operation since it was neither code compliant nor licensed; it couldn't become code compliant or licensed without funding for renovation or operation.
One who came - and stayed - was Beth Lang, who had years of experience developing and operating addiction and mental health programs in New York and Florida. When the Director resigned in 1990 she took the position on a volunteer basis. In 1991, after the facility had suffered the second of two fires the City of Miami condemned the building. When it looked as though the program would close, the efforts of all the individuals above plus a new board member, Duke McBride, were rewarded. Better Way was given the long term use of Beckman Hall, after it was returned to the city by the state, for use as a homeless facility. If it had not been for the help of the then Mayor, Xavier Suarez, the City Manager, Cesar Odio and several Commissioners at that time, there would be no Better Way today!
Relocation to its new home meant an opportunity to survive, but the new site needed some major renovation. With the help of Frank Rabbito and Bruce Edgerle of HRS and Brother Harry of Camillus House, Better Way got some financial assistance. The staff of eight, all forty six clients, the local IBEW chapter and a few generous contractors, all together, accomplished enough renovation to meet applicable codes so that the new facility could open in May 1992. It was licensed at that time as an Adult Substance Abuse Residential Program with a capacity of sixty clients.
Since that time, the program, as the 'new kid on the treatment block', has survived extremely tough odds to grow and flourish, serving Miami's homeless, late stage and very poor addict and alcoholic in need of help. There have been many times when making payroll was impossible, bills were unpaid and no one knew where the next dollar was coming from, but through it all, staff and Board members remained loyal. Clients, alumni, donors and funders pitched in to help. Over the last nine years, the program has been able to attract multiple sources of relatively small amounts of funding, so, all together, it makes the entire array of programs work. Through it all, thanks to those dedicated board and staff members, and hundreds of loyal donors, funders and supporters, the program has never lost touch with its mission, its target population or its clinical integrity.
For a previously 'homeless' homeless program with a staff of five, a budget of $70,000 and 96 residential clients served in 1991 to a comprehensive treatment and housing program with a staff of 55, a budget of $2,300,000 and 672 served in all programs in 2000-2001, it continues to be quite a journey!
Today, Better Way is proud to be a vital and integral part of the developing systems of care for the homeless, the addicted, the dually diagnosed and the HIV Positive here in Miami-Dade County. We are proud, also, to be able to continue to provide quality care and services to anyone, regardless of his or her ability to pay.
We are very grateful to all who have made our continued growth possible, so that those in need may find a 'Better Way' of life in recovery.