Matthew Newmark needed help.
Two years ago, the 44-year-old former public relations professional had hit a bottom. Again. It was a feeling he was all too familiar with. He had been through treatment for his alcoholism before, when he was 30, a 60-day program that obviously didn’t stick. And here he was, in his early forties, having recently lost his mother after being her caretaker, suffering from addiction and drained of resources.
“My mom had died. I’d spent years living with her,” recalls Newmark. “I was her primary caretaker, and I was using that as leverage to continue to be in the disease and not work.”
Out of options and money, Newmark knew he needed to seek help again if he was ever going to gain back control of his life. Not wanting to repeat the same in-and-out treatment he experienced before, he discovered the Beacon House Association of San Pedro and its free, long-term, residential, all-inclusive treatment program.
“I came here two years ago, and it was very apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to continue living the way I was because I was an alcoholic,” says Newmark. “I’d lost touch with friends, with society as a whole. I needed help, so I came [in 2018] and went through the primary program. [It’s] a lot of group work. You get counseling. You start to build relationships, and you focus on treatment.”
It took him 15 months to graduate from the primary program (the average is between 9-15). He’s currently in the second phase, which involves a role in giving back to the nonprofit organization in some way. With a degree in psychology from UC Berkeley (1998) and writing experience, Newmark works in Beacon House’s marketing and communications department, while also taking online classes to earn a state license in property and casualty insurance.
“It’s powerful, addiction,” says Newmark. “I came in pretty angry and defiant. I had had some success in the past, so I thought I knew everything… I had to learn to be humble. I had to learn to ask for help.”
HALF CENTURY OF RECOVERY
Newmark’s story is impressive but not unusual given the men’s recovery program’s storied reputation.
The Beacon House Association of San Pedro was founded in 1970 by Father Art Bartlett, a local minister, with Michael Dowling, an alcoholic merchant seaman, and was incorporated in 1974. The nonprofit is a state-certified residential alcoholic/drug recovery facility for men over the age of 18 who are ambulatory, mentally competent, and who are motivated to achieve sobriety. Being an all-inclusive residential facility, the organization focuses on lifestyle changes of the addict through long-term stay that concentrates on peer groups and community.
According to Mitch Harmatz, director of advancement, research, and communications for Beacon House, 34 percent of the men that enter the facility complete the program. Over the last five years, 74.5 percent of the men who finish the program are still sober, according to a Beacon House survey conducted in December 2019. The average resident age is 27.
“Half the guys drop out in the first 60 days,” adds Harmatz. “The first year is the primary program, and the second year is a more extensive program where they’re building out their ability to leave here successfully. So all the work done here is built on preparing yourself for a job or a career outside of Beacon House.”
The organization is funded in three ways: through government grants, contracts, and fees for services; social enterprises that include the thrift shop, catering business, and a contract with Portuguese Bend Beach Club; and through fundraising. The campus has a large footprint spanning 11 properties (eight owned, three leased) around Beacon Street between 10th and 11th streets, with plans to expand into Long Beach with a new 13,000 square-foot thrift shop in the coming months.
Harmatz, a familiar face in San Pedro as the former owner of the Shell gas station in Park Plaza, got involved with Beacon House through their food service program after selling his business in 2017. A regular donor to the nonprofit with a strong network in the community, Harmatz saw an opportunity for the organization to restructure their social enterprises and was asked to come on board to help.
“I’ve known [Beacon House] executive director, Brian Smith, for years,” he says. “He asked if I could help run their community involvement and community relations, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
The San Pedro institution, which turns 50 this year, was recently recognized as one of America’s Best Addiction Treatment Centers by Newsweek magazine. However, the coronavirus pandemic has presented Beacon House with a new set of challenges. A budget shortfall due to a lost contract, the loss of prior revenue-generating enterprises (like monthly bistro dinners), and managing a concentrated population of nearly one hundred while a virus spreads, has forced the organization to find new and creative ways to generate revenue in order to keep their members safe, their recovery ongoing, and their services free.
Everyone working inside the Beacon House Thrift Shop on Pacific Avenue is on some path to substance abuse recovery, though you’d never suspect it. The staff is young, energetic, and friendly, and willing to offer help when necessary. The experience and job skills learned are part of their recovery process.
“Depending on the level of responsibility, [residents] get a certain stipend and free room and board,” explains Harmatz. “It’s well above minimum wage when you package all the benefits they’re receiving.” This also includes therapy, programs, and treatment.
To San Pedrans of a certain generation, the men of Beacon House were widely known as the grunt workers of San Pedro. At nearly every public event held in town in the last 20 years, these men in recovery would help set up and take down fencing, pick up trash, and provide security. It was easy, cheap labor that became normal practice for years. According to Harmatz though, those days are long gone.
Under the direction of Shane Fleming, Beacon House’s director of social enterprises and a former graduate of the recovery program, the nonprofit is now focused on providing its residents with higher quality jobs, such as working in the thrift shop or working for their newly created catering business, that will look better for them on their resumes when they graduate the program and reenter society.
“This is a reality check,” explains Harmatz. “If I give you a resume and it says, ‘I spent two years setting up events,’ or it says, ‘I spent two years running an inventory system for a million-dollar retail store,’ or ‘I was running inventory control for a catering business,’ I think that’s a more powerful resume than saying, ‘I was putting up barricades.’”
The thrift shop, which opened its doors in 2018, closed for three months this summer due to COVID-19. Since reopening in June, Fleming says the shop is experiencing its best sales months ever.
“The whole point of having a good margin and being profitable in our enterprise is twofold,” explains Harmatz. “It funds our program. It gives guys the ability to work, and when they leave here, they’ll have money in their bank account. It also teaches our guys all the skills necessary to have a good resume and move on to a real job when they leave.”
Prior to the pandemic, one of Beacon House’s most popular fundraising events was their monthly bistro, where the public was invited on the last Friday of the month to try dishes from the program’s culinary students. But since the pandemic has shut down any type of large gatherings for the foreseeable future, the organization had to find a creative way to utilize their kitchen and maintain that important revenue stream.
As Harmatz explains, the constraints of the pandemic fostered some creative ideas that resulted in a new catering business. “When the coronavirus hit, we quarantined the whole campus,” he says. “We couldn’t bring 80 guys to the kitchen to eat, so we packaged everything, and the residents would come through, and we’d serve six at a time. We realized we could convert this into a business.”
Through funds raised over the last 12 months, Beacon House is in the process of converting its bistro into a full commercial kitchen in order to better serve the new catering endeavor. They currently prepare and deliver 450 meals a day to the two new homeless shelters in San Pedro, with a goal of providing a total of 1,200 meals a day, spread across various local organizations.
“Our catering business is part of our pillars of recovery,” said Brian Smith, executive director of Beacon House, in a statement. “With long-term treatment and workforce training, our men can build a solid foundation of sobriety and develop the marketable skills to reenter the workforce. Skills that lead to careers that will allow them to be providers for their families, as well as taxpayers and contributors to our community. And given today’s crisis, catering will help keep our doors open.”
The culinary program offers residents the chance to work in a commercial kitchen, either on the cooking side by creating dishes and preparing food or in managerial roles, monitoring inventory, and handling orders. One of their recent graduates is now a chef at Terranea.
For Stephen King, a graduate of the recovery program who now helps run their commercial kitchen, having the freedom to create with food has helped assist in his recovery.
“I’m an artist, and I like to create with my hands,” says the 47-year-old from Huntington Beach. “This is like being a painter or a musician, except I do it with food. Also, I love the environment. It’s fast-paced. This allows me to have things just happen that are unpredictable. And then there are times when things are very structured, scheduled, and need to be done on time. So it fits both aspects for me.”
Due to the success of the San Pedro store, the Beacon House Association of San Pedro is expanding into Long Beach with a new 13,000 square foot thrift shop that will be opening next year. Also, the nonprofit recently partnered with L.A. Harbor College, bringing new educational opportunities for residents. They’ve also partnered with Strides to Recovery, providing residents with long-distance walking and running programs to assist in their treatment.
“You come in here and you don’t know anybody, and you make friends,” says Newmark. “The food is taken care of, your bills are taken care of, everything’s taken care of so you can focus on your sobriety.”
Fleming adds, “A lot of the guys don’t show up here with the skills needed to even exist or compete in the job marketplace. So our job is to help them get there. Yes, we’ve got to treat the disease, but we also have to get these guys able to function in society. We have to put them back out there so they could be a taxpayer, pay rent, and do all these things. That’s my job. I want to get them there. If they come [to Beacon House], there’s some work in front of you. There’s some recovery work, and then there’s some actual work.” spt
For more info on the Beacon House Association of San Pedro, visit thebeaconhouse.org.