Homeless of Richmond Getting a Solid First Step Back

Martin Agency Exec Dean Jarrett Lends a Hand

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- The other morning Dean Jarrett, senior VP-marketing communications at the Martin Agency, left his Richmond, Va., office and drove five minutes to a halfway house, like he often does, where he was rushed into a back room, interrupting a support-group meeting.
Dean Jarrett, senior VP-marketing communications at the Martin Agency, is a board member of the Healing Place, a Richmond, Va., service center for the homeless.
Dean Jarrett, senior VP-marketing communications at the Martin Agency, is a board member of the Healing Place, a Richmond, Va., service center for the homeless.

Drug addicts
"Next thing I know, I'm holding hands with two huge guys who are saying a simple prayer about doing the right thing for today: taking complete responsibility for their actions," Mr. Jarrett related. "The guy on my right was a reformed heroin addict who was now a 'peer mentor,' and the guy on my left was a reformed cocaine addict."

Helping recovering addicts and homeless people is a crusade for Mr. Jarrett, 46, who is a board member of the Healing Place, a shelter and recovery center that opened in Richmond last year.

While one might not associate this Virginia city with homelessness, an estimated 1,600 people sleep on its streets on a given night, with about 10% of that group classified as chronically homeless: people with issues such as mental illness or drug or alcohol addictions that keep them in a cycle of poverty.

Organizing homeless initiatives
Mr. Jarrett got involved in the cause in 1997, when a homeless-advocacy group addressed Martin. He became a founding member of Homeward, a group formed to help organize the city's homeless initiatives.

Not only did he help accomplish the group's goals, such as boosting its federal and state funding, he also got Martin to create and host its website. He parlayed his marketing skills to help land sponsors such as Verizon Wireless to supply voicemail for homeless job seekers and Wachovia Bank to back an annual River Walk fundraiser. "A lot of people have incredible stories to tell, but they don't know how to package them," he said. "I can help some with strategy."

After several years serving on the board, he said, "In the process of figuring out exactly what we had locally to help the homeless, we also figured out what we were missing. We had a huge gap in service. We had nowhere for an addict to go get well."

Fundraising plan
Hence, the Healing Place was born, modeled after a successful center in Louisville, Ky. "We found the best model in the country. We put together a board, a fundraising plan, we found a building, fought [not-in-my-backyard] issues."

One of the center's neighbors who "was totally against it," he said, is now a receptionist at there. The center, which filled up in two months, houses up to 150, with beds reserved for those going through detox programs. Apartments house as many as another 40 recent grads trying to transition back into the working world.

It uses a peer-based system, with former addicts running the program, which can last between nine and 18 months. So far, it's male only; a women's center is in the plans.

Taxpayer costs
"They're graduating people who come in as crack addicts and [are] coming out as tax-paying citizens and paying child support," Mr. Jarrett said, noting statistics that say it costs $40,000 a year for taxpayers to support homeless people with emergency and relief services.

Mike Christin, executive director of the Healing Place, who said Mr. Jarrett was at the center that morning filming a video to solicit funding, called him a "dynamo." "I wish we could clone him so we could open more places," he said.

Mr. Jarrett isn't the only volunteer in his household. He recently was home with his two children for 10 days while his nurse-practitioner wife was in Honduras with a church group treating more than 500 patients afflicted with poverty-related diseases.

Mr. Jarrett said he is a benefactor because it gives him balance. "You can make a difference and save people's lives," he said, "and that's something you don't do often in advertising."

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