The Heart of HIPS
Kathy “Ms. Kathy” Vann is a Level II Certified Addictions Counselor that leads groups at HIPS for those who choose not to use drugs. She describes her approach as unconventional, believing that you must “first come from the heart and appeal to a person’s spirit.” She shared a little about her ‘angel’ CoCo and how their connection began and grew.
I believe ‘gifts’ are given to us by the Universe in the most amazing sizes, shapes and forms. CoCo is one of them. I’d been working as a Level II Certified Addictions Counselor at HIPS for a few weeks, facilitating Recovery based therapeutic group sessions. It had been a huge challenge to entice clients to enter into the sessions. The HIPS ‘Drop In Center’ is a popular visiting place for people experiencing homeless and drug users.
One day, CoCo entered into the room. She was disheveled and appeared to be homeless. I don’t recall what the topic of the day’s discussion was, but she quietly remained throughout the session listening. Lunch was offered. CoCo ate with our small group. From that point on she participated on a daily basis. She appeared very interested in the group topics. CoCo spoke quietly. Her speech was muttered and it was at times challenging to understand her words. However, when she spoke she always presented a profound message. We would wait with ‘baited breath’ to receive the knowledge that would come from a person whom the group least expected to receive it from!
CoCo became an important and integral part of our small community within the HIPS community. I believe it was her blatant honesty when sharing that we appreciated the most. For example, when describing herself, the public views her as a transgender woman. CoCo expressed that she is a male. She stated that she has a penis and is not confused about her biological makeup. She explained that her dressing as a female is due to an emotional and psychological desire to be ‘close’ to her deceased mother.
CoCo is Haitian. She surprised the group one day when she began to speak fluent French! She shared a traumatic story about her mother’s death when Coco was a very young child. She adored her mother and used to play ‘dress up’ with her mother’s clothing. When her mother died, Coco and her siblings came to New York City to live with relatives. She still has difficulty speaking about this terrible time in her journey of life.
When I met Coco she used drugs on a daily basis and identified her occupation as a sex worker. No matter how her previous day went CoCo always showed up to group the following day. We had become a ‘family’, all from different experiences, trials, and walks of life. The group grew to greatly respect one another’s life choices. There remained a certain type of freedom from negative opinions and judgements, as well as safety from harm’s way inside our small room.
When the Covid19 pandemic hit, the group was postponed for over a year. However, when the Covid19 restrictions allowed, we reunited. We spent summer Thursdays in parks near the Anacostia River. HIPS staff members frequently joined us. CoCo then moved to a special type of shelter in Baltimore. She still made her way to D.C. to attend our group sessions. A few months ago, Coco entered a drug treatment facility outside of the District. She returned drug free with a renewed attitude of clarity!
Since then, CoCo has somewhat transformed! Although remaining blatantly honest with a kindness of spirit, she has abandoned her matted wigs, displaying her beautiful naturally curly hair. Her clothing is no longer disheveled. CoCo shares her philosophy of ‘Living in the Now’, something we both agree upon!
She remains faithful to our group, appearing consistently and sharing with an honest and excitedly open heart. She is my ‘Angel’.
Thank You, Universe!