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Metro Drug Coalition 'Gateway' recovery center changes woman's life

Since the Gateway opened on September 23, the center has helped nearly 1,000 people on their road from addiction to recovery.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Nearly 1,000 people have gotten addiction treatment and recovery resources, thanks to a new community center in North Knoxville

On September 23, Metro Drug Coalition opened "The Gateway." The community addiction and recovery center has already become a vital resource in the fight against the overdose epidemic and in helping people experiencing homelessness in downtown Knoxville.

The Gateway is located adjacent to Broadway in downtown Knoxville. It's a block away from the Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry, Salvation Army, and other homelessness services. Due to their location, some of the traffic to the center has been foot traffic — driven by curiosity.

At least, that's what happened to Amber 'Nikki' Isabell. She was living at KARM when she first discovered The Gateway.

"I happen to walk upon here and come across in a meeting that opened my eyes up and my ears up to a lot of things that I really needed to hear that night," Nikki said.

Nikki's journey from housed to homeless is one that's become far too common. Nikki's life took a downward spiral during the COVID-19 pandemic. She, like many others, was sent to work from home. Her kids were sent home from daycare. Between long work weeks, and acting as a single mother to three young children, it was too much, Nikki said.

Nikki said that she lost her job. Then, her roof started leaking, which led to a major bill. Then, her kids were taken away due to the conditions of the home. Then, she left her home. 

"I lost everything to my name, except for my necklace that my daughter made for me, that I always wear," Nikki said.

It was all this stress that led to the drinking.

"During COVID, I do admit that started to fall into drinking. And it did cause a lot more problems. I isolated myself and put myself in positions I never would have," Nikki said.

After losing her home. She bounced around from California to Texas to Florida, looking for a new place to call home. 

"I’ve been a person who's lived on the streets have been a person who's lived in her car," Nikki said. "I've experienced pretty much all forms of homelessness that a person can.".

Nikki returned to Knoxville in April. She got a bed at KARM. Ever since then, her mission has been to get her kids back. 

In September, Nikki found The Gateway. She said the center has made all the difference in her personal journey to recovery.

"Part of what I was searching for along the journey was a place I could actually recover. And I feel like I'm starting to finally find the place that I'm going to get back to where I need to be," Nikki said.

The Gateway offers narcotics anonymous and alcoholics anonymous programs, as well as other group therapy sessions. They also support treatment and recovery programs through arts, crafts, music, and coffee. The official coffee shop will open in mid-2023. 

Nikki said the singing portion has been incredibly therapeutic in her recovery.

"Putting those words down and using my voice. And the way I choose to use my voice is through singing usually," Nikki said.

Now, she's learning how things like singing can help her vocalize, and manage her stress.

"Stress leads so many people to drink and do drugs, because they are trying to find a way to cope with the stresses that they have, wherever it comes from," Nikki said.

Now, Nikki is in a recovery house in Knoxville. She said she is sober, happy, and working to get her kids back, thanks to The Gateway.

"I'm glad for the opportunity that I just happened to walk upon. I felt like it was meant to be that ended up here," Nikki said.

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