Vincent Timmons was leaving the grocery store when he saw a couple panhandling in the cold. They looked tired, noticeably thin and worn down, he said. Timmons brought them something to drink and learned they had nowhere to go. Eventually they shared that they had a substance use disorder and agreed to be taken to Tuerk House, a drug and alcohol treatment center where Timmons works.

About a month later, he ran into the couple while out running errands. They had gone through the detox program at Tuerk House and had regained weight and looked healthier. They were also in a better state of mind to reconnect with family, he said, and were working on getting housing.

“I love what I do,” Timmons said. “I can change somebody’s life.”

Timmons knows about changed lives. Somebody once helped change his.

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He too once went through the detox program at Tuerk House. Now he does outreach for them trying to connect people who are going through what he once did to seek help. His job in outreach involves handing out flyers and brochures about programs and resources at a table set up in neighborhoods. Sometimes he hits the streets. He leaves the overdose reversal drug Narcan in vacant houses where people gather to take drugs and works to connect people to Tuerk House and its services. He’s intentional with those who seek help and understands where they’re coming from, since he was once the one who needed help.

At Poplar Grove Street and West Lafayette Avenue, as the lone outreach specialist of Tuerk House, Vincent Timmons provides information to help people battling addiction in Baltimore, on March 21, 2023. He loves to help people and give them options to overcome their addictions or use other resources from the organization. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

When he came to Tuerk House as a client five years ago, Timmons had wasted a lot of his life getting high and cycling in and out of jail, he said. He had tried other programs but couldn’t get his addiction under control.

One day he took a good look at his family, especially his five children and dozen grandchildren, and asked himself, “Do I really want to keep doing this?”

His sister told him it was time to get himself together and took him to Tuerk House.

Treatment was hard; he likened the withdrawal process to “worse than a toothache” and thinks that pain can be enough to discourage anyone.

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But at Tuerk House, he said, he felt like a person and they offered more structure than other programs. They treated him with respect and not like a statistic.

“With some programs, you can stay in a room for four days and no one knows you’re there. … It makes a big difference being seen,” he said.

Timmons was a good influence on other people when he was going through treatment, volunteering for different chores and talking to people who were considering leaving the program, said Mayra Diaz, the chief operating officer with Tuerk House. When he finished his program, he told Diaz he wanted to work for them.

Come back with two years of sobriety, she said, and he could interview for a job. Timmons was up for the challenge. He thought that if you give someone who once had a substance use disorder a job, they’ll go right to the top, because “they’ve already been at the bottom.”

After detox, Timmons entered a long-term program at Tuerk House. He attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings and participated in classes about mental health. He also earned a certification as a peer recovery coach. Keeping busy, he said, kept him away from substance use and left him feeling positive that he was working toward a new chapter in his life.

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His first position at Tuerk House was as a peer recovery coach in the crisis unit, assisting clients just as they enter treatment. He realized that a lot of people didn’t know about the different programs and resources the organization offers. He started making T-shirts and flyers about the services, he said. Eventually, he received a promotion to work in outreach.

Timmons has the perfect traits for the job, Diaz said: passion, a good heart and ability to relate to clients.

“He is a go-getter. It doesn’t matter what time it is. As long as he’s helping somebody, he’s going to be there,” Diaz said.

Timmons’ oldest son, Kenyon, said his father has a knack for people. He can talk as easily to a millionaire as a person that has nothing. While he does regret that his dad missed graduations and proms because of his substance use disorder, he said, his father is a family man and determined. He’s proud of his dad for his recovery, but also for his dedication to serve. Kenyon said that outside of work his dad buys sandwiches and gives them to homeless people. Timmons also volunteers at Love and Cornbread, a nonprofit that provides free meals.

“He is really making a stride to give back and to let people know that they can change,” Kenyon said.

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Timmons doesn’t worry that his work with substance use disorders will cause him to relapse. Instead, he’s reminded that he doesn’t want to go back to a life controlled by substance use. He hopes to be a motivation for others, he said, because “when you’re out here clean, other people wanna get clean.”

Acknowledging people and meeting them where they are at is at the core of Timmons’ approach. Outreach involves trust, he said, and people need to know you’re going to be there and that they can rely on you.

Timmons stood next to a brick wall near a city social services building on Pennsylvania Avenue recently as he did outreach. He moved different items into place on a table like chess, a “thinking man’s game” his mother taught him over 30 years ago. In the center of the table was a clear and blue bowl with bags of chips, next to them two baskets of Narcan. Pamphlets about urgent care, mental health services, DUI classes, and additional detox beds were also spread around the table.

At Poplar Grove Street and West Lafayette Avenue, as the lone outreach specialist of Tuerk House, Vincent Timmons provides information to help people battling addiction on March 21, 2023. He loves to help people and give them options to overcome their addictions or use other resources from the organization. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

Each item has a meaning and a purpose. Timmons draws people in with the chips and then provides them other information.

“It’s like growing a flower,” he said, because he has to plant the seed and get people thinking about their options. If someone turns down the Narcan or a flyer, Timmons urges them to share it with someone else, saying they could possibly save somebody’s life.

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“They might not come today or tomorrow,” he said, “but they’re gonna come.”

Deborah, who asked that her last name not be shared to protect her son’s identity, said Timmons came highly recommended to help her son. He took her calls at any time of the day.

“He did everything humanly possible and beyond to try and support us through encouraging words, cheering my son on and giving him the basics to say he was going to be all right. You could tell how much he cared,” Deborah said.

Deborah’s son did not stay in treatment, but she’s grateful Timmons got him through the door all while being understanding and positive.

There are reasons a person might be reluctant to get help with a substance use disorder, said Carson Herbert, a licensed social worker with the Center for Addiction Medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Midtown Campus. There could be a fear of stigma, not knowing how to get help or a lack of hope that they can change. Trauma can also affect substance use, Herbert added.

Timmons doesn’t celebrate the years of sobriety.

“I should have never picked that junk up,” he says.

For now, he celebrates the people who take the flyers and Narcan or agree to call him and take him up on his help.

He doesn’t know if or when they’ll call, but he’ll be ready when they do.

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

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