Christine Wicker: Shifting the System for Addiction and Mental Health

Story by Parker Johnson. Photos by Jan Osborn.

Mental illnesses and substance use disorders continue their assault on Americans, growing each month, especially in the days of COVID-19. Substance use disorder, in particular, has put a significant strain on our medical and legal systems over the past several decades. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 25% of those prescribed opioids for pain relief will end up misusing the drug. Not only does addiction and substance use disorder affect those struggling with it, but it also can affect their family and friends. Christine Wicker learned firsthand the struggles with addiction as she watched her close friend succumb to substance use disorder. 


For 40 years, Homeward Bound behavioral health treatment center has provided a haven where those struggling with substance abuse disorder, especially homeless and indigent people who can’t afford treatment, can get help. This Dallas-based organization also provides individuals with an alternative to incarceration. Homeward Bound treats substance use disorder as a mental health situation rather than a criminal problem. Through detoxification, residential treatment, counseling, education, and peer support, Homeward Bound tackles the issue of substance abuse at the root, ensuring those affected can kick the addiction. 

Christine Wicker, the development director at Homeward Bound, felt a personal connection with the Dallas-based organization that encouraged her to start volunteering in her community. She and Homeward Bound co-founder, Douglas Denton, had known each other since graduate school. She had done stories on his work while a reporter at the Dallas Morning News. But volunteering herself wasn’t something she thought much about when she was younger. “Growing up, we didn’t do a whole lot of volunteering. Like many working-class families, we were always out working. My father was in the U.S. military, and so we were constantly moving around. I was born in Oklahoma, but we moved around the South quite a bit. I went to high school in Arlington. Several years ago, I moved from California back to the Dallas area. ” 


It was through the struggles of a close personal friend that Christine turned to Homeward Bound for education and guidance. “I had a friend who I’ll call William (to protect his privacy). He was struggling with cancer. The doctors decided to put a port in his chest to help administer chemotherapy. His chest eventually became infected, which required part of his lung and surrounding tissue to be removed. After the procedure, William was in a tremendous amount of pain, and he began to take opioids. After a while, William became addicted to the opioids.”

Like so many Americans who have family and friends struggling with addiction, Christine wanted to help William, but there was so much she didn’t understand about addiction  “I didn’t know anything about addiction, but I knew he was addicted. I was a reporter, and so William wanted me to research the world of addiction. He lived in Dallas. Doug, who was now the Executive Director of Homeward Bound, and I had continued to be friends. I would often call Doug when I was concerned by the things William was going through. Doug would help explain to me what William was experiencing. One thing that stuck out to me is when I went to the doctor with William, and the doctor told me that William was afraid of the pain even though there was very little pain left, and that is why he took the opioids. I was shocked because I thought William knew best if he was in pain, and I believed him. That’s when I realized how much William needed treatment. William had gone to school at Stanford, and so I got Stanford to agree to see him and help with his recovery. However, one month before we were to make the trip to Stanford, William’s heart stopped, and he passed away.”

The next year, Christine moved to the Dallas area from California. Deep down it was clear she wanted to work with Homeward Bound, to help those struggling with mental illness and substance use disorder. “I volunteered with Homeward Bound for about three years and then last September, the board of directors decided to hire me as Development Director.” 

Homeward Bound’s treatment center in southern Dallas.

Homeward Bound’s treatment center in southern Dallas.

Over the past four decades, Homeward Bound has genuinely become a pillar of the Dallas community. They provide many services designed to get individuals addicted to drugs off the streets and into recovery. “Homeward Bound does an amazing array of things. We aren’t as well known for our mental health programs and treatment, and we should be. When people come out of Parkland Hospital, they are having a crisis. The doctors put them on these psychotropic meds, and they need to stabilize. However, stabilizing at a hospital is not the best option. We make sure that they are okay and have somewhere to go. We have residential treatment as well for those that have nowhere else to go. I ought to also mention that we have the only HIV treatment for substance abuse disorders in Texas for low-income individuals.”

Doug Denton, the founder and Executive Director of Homeward Bound,(take out)  has taken a fundamental interest in substance use disorder and its role in the criminal justice system. “For the first 30 years of our organization’s existence, we maintained a low profile. We mainly worked with government agencies, including the adult probation and court systems,” Doug says. “We helped them help people that they see are becoming victims of the system. We became an opportunity for a judge to seize a glimmer of hope for those they see in the court system.” Often when someone is arrested for drug possession or other misdemeanors, they are sent to a jail system where they are being exposed to the same drugs that got them into trouble in the first place. Homeward Bound has worked with the criminal justice system in Texas to show that these individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorder have a much higher chance of being successfully rehabilitated when they are treated for their addiction. 


For organizations like Homeward Bound to continue the great work they do in the Dallas community, they rely on donations from that community. North Texas Giving Day is a fantastic platform to raise money for the nonprofits and organizations in Dallas. Homeward Bound has taken part in North Texas Giving Day for almost every year since its inception in 2009. This year Homeward Bound hopes to raise $10,000 to help provide the necessary services for those struggling with substance use disorder. 

If you are interested in making a donation that will make a practical difference for those facing mental illness and addiction,  we encourage you to donate to Homeward Bound during North Texas Giving Day on September 17th. And throughout the year  Homeward Bound needs donations of clothes, especially socks, for those that they serve.   

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