Mohr Center Begins 30 Years of Service to Community

By Michael Costanzo
      January 1982 was an exceptionally cold month in Charlottesville.  Not long after the holidays a group of people responded to the cold by opening a downtown church basement to men who were homeless and had drinking problems that made it difficult to find and maintain a place to live, and who frequently ended up in jail.  This volunteer response to a community problem led to the establishment of a permanent shelter for homeless alcoholics—Charter House—that evolved into the Mohr Center.

    This month begins the thirtieth year of the Mohr Center, named in memory of Mo Mohr, former substance abuse coordinator for Region Ten who died in 1991.  Thirty years ago one of Mo’s responsibilities was to develop a program that would provide an alternative to arrest and incarceration for a small number of men who were responsible the previous year for most of the two thousand of the local public intoxication arrests.  Mo worked with a committee to develop a permanent public inebriate shelter.  In January 1983 Region Ten opened Charter House at 1014 East Market Street. 

    Since then the program evolved to respond to changing regulatory and funding realities.  In 1991, the Commonwealth of Virginia required Region Ten to apply for a license for Charter House.  As a result, Charter House was renamed the Mohr Center and became a licensed detoxification service for men and women.  Due to state budget cuts in 2002 the Mohr Center changed its services by eliminating detoxification services for men and women but adding residential treatment services for men with co-occurring disorders.    Throughout the years the center has maintained its public inebriate shelter.

    Today the Mohr Center maintains a five-bed shelter with a 24-hour maximum stay and a ten-bed residential treatment program that is designed to last two weeks.   The vast majority of shelter referrals come from local law enforcement but other Region Ten staff makes referrals of men who may be at risk of arrest for public intoxication. The Region Ten Recovery Support Team can provide additional support to assist individuals to begin their recovery. 

    Another welcome resource is the founding of four new local Oxford Houses—one for women and three for men.  Oxford Houses are democratically-managed group homes for people in recovery.  The only requirements are to pay rent, to abstain from alcohol and other drugs and to abide by Oxford House rules.   Oxford Houses are now a viable option for low-cost permanent housing for some of the 130 men who will complete the Mohr Center residential treatment program this year.

    In 1982 the staff of the newly created shelter for homeless alcoholics mostly had contact with city police officers.  Today the Mohr Center staff maintains local law enforcement contacts, but also has regular contacts with a wide variety of staff from Region Ten, the Haven, the Salvation Army, PACEM and other others providing services to people who are homeless and who have co-occurring disorders.    And in spite of its evolving mission the Mohr Center continues to provide safe shelter on cold winter nights.