CLEVELAND — Shared experiences, even between strangers, can create a bond. One man in Northeast Ohio is tapping into that connection to make our community a healthier land by opening up a sober house geared towards the LGBTQ community.
Addiction, homelessness, mental illness—all on their own are a heavy burden for someone to bear.
But for those who identify as LGBTQ, it can be an even greater challenge.
“There’s lot of discrimination and prejudice," said Tony Correa, B. Riley Sober House.
Correa finally decided to kick his heroin addiction, he said didn't feel completely comfortable as a gay man in a hetero-normative treatment program.
“Oftentimes people don’t understand what we’re going through, what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, why we’re feeling it," said Correa.
Correa's uphill battle inspired him to open the B. Riley Sober House, one of only two sober houses in the country specifically for members of the LGBTQ community.
“I did not want anyone else to experience that pain and hurt that I felt then," said Correa.
Since opening its doors in 2016 demand for its services has grown.
“For me, this was the best place to help find God and become sober and build the life that I wanted," said Ross Hilaszek, recovering addict.
To make sure no one falls through the cracks, Correa recently opened the B. Riley Drop-in Center at W. 38th Street and Denison Avenue in Cleveland.
“It’s a place where they can come be warm, get a snack, lunch," said Correa.
The safe space is not only a refuge for those dealing with mental health, homelessness, and addiction, it can connect them with help.
“Case management, peer support services," said Correa.
Chann Payton with People, Places and Dreams, which provides wellness and recovery programs, said B. Riley's acceptance and tolerance often not found in society goes a long way in helping someone overcome addiction.
“You understand the fight, you understand the battle, you understand innately what someone is going through. We’re seeing people recover, and it is possible," said Payton.
Having a chance to be his authentic self is what Ross Hilaszek said helped him break free from the grips of heroin.
“This is just the greatest place for open-mindedness. I feel like I’m at home. Coming out of addiction I never felt like I knew what home was or I don’t remember what the feeling of home is," said Hilaszek.
While both the B. Riley House and drop-in center are covered in pride colors and flags, those symbols of acceptance are also a beacon for others who find themselves disenfranchised.
“It’s the rainbows of race, the rainbows of ethnicity that are accepted here," said Payton.
With five years of sobriety now under his belt, Correa now finds himself with a purpose and can appreciate the pain he endured on his journey through recovery.
“I’m grateful for my process of getting sober, I needed all of that to become who I am today to be able to help those I help today," said Correa.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.