Here’s a Look at Integrity House Through our 44 Years of Service
How we began . . .
In the mid-60’s, Dave Kerr was a parole officer in Newark. He recognized the need for a support system to help the many drug addicts on his caseload. For three years he researched the problem of drug addiction and solutions in the form of treatment. He even chaired the annual state conference on the subject, sponsored by the New Jersey Welfare council. Rather than expecting others to provide the services to meet the needs of his parolees, Dave started his own support system. One-on-one discussions led to group counseling sessions and eventually to the development of a social club. Richard Grossklaus began his work at the club by locating a more permanent site for the club’s activities. The activities were designed to help recovering drug addicts stay drug free.
How we grew . . .
Soon the social club grew so large it could no longer meet in backyards and garages. In 1968 the club moved to a Belleville storefront to continue its sessions. During one of the sessions an addict crashed through the door and threatened one of the participants with a butcher’s knife. Fortunately, the intruder was disarmed by another group member before anyone was seriously injured. The community, fearing the negative influence on its residents and claiming there were no drugs addicts in their town, gave the social club 30 days to move out.
Richard looked at buildings in Newark because following the 1967 riots, rental properties there were abundant. He located 45 Lincoln Park in Newark, and Dave gave up his job to work with addicts full time at no pay. In August 1968 the social club incorporated into Integrity, Inc. The name Integrity, meaning oneness, honesty or unity, came from Dave’s mother who felt it was a dignified and appropriate name for the program her son was establishing.
But there were problems . . .
On October 26, 1968, Dave, Richard and four paroles moved into their new home — sort of. There was no key to get into the building so they entered by sliding down the coal chute. There was no heat in the building and to stay warm they burned wood in the fireplaces.
Lack of heat was nothing compared to the more urgent problems with the first Integrity House members. During the day Dave was attending the New School for Social Research and Richard was working at Newark Academy. The members were supposed to be at their jobs and contributing money and talent toward the upkeep of the facility. Instead of working they were getting high. Dave and Richard paid the expenses, cooked, cleaned and split wood in addition to their other responsibilities. Dave and Richard were trying to instill their middle class values, work ethic and kindness on the members. The members had other ideas. One individual alleged that his room at Integrity was broken into and claimed all of his belongings were stolen. Richard called the member’s mother to provide the money to replace all of the lost items. It was determined that the resident broke into his own room and stole his own belongings. He took the replacement money and got high.
And the problems continued . . .
Dave and Richard were mugged a number of times, at gun and knife point, during the first six months in Newark. In late March 1969, the same members Dave was trying to help burglarized 45 Lincoln Park, their own home. They took everything including Dave’s typewriter, tape recorder, clothes and money. Dave began having second thoughts about what he was doing. Was he or wasn’t he accomplishing anything positive with these members and should he continue with his efforts? The answer came the next day in the form of a $1,000 check from the Atlantic Foundation. They wanted to help support and continue the “good work of Integrity”.
Then a solution from the very people Dave was trying to help . . .
Carl K., who had been in a drug rehab program before coming to Integrity House, knew from experience what would work with drug addicts. He suggested providing better discipline and more careful supervision of the members. The drug addicts interpreted Dave’s kindness for weakness and took advantage of him. Dave took Carl’s recommendations, did some research on working with drug addicts and developed the basis for what is now Integrity’s therapeutic community. Integrity House is very different from what it was in 1968, and like all dynamic organizations, it continues to change as people and their needs change.