Tuerk House's Task

Executive director Bernard Gyebi-Foster uses a no-judgement policy to treat addiction.

If you’ve lived on the streets for any period of time, you know that substance abuse is rampant in that population. So, in many ways, Bernard Gyebi-Foster—who was homeless in New York City for a time—is a good choice for executive director of Tuerk House, founded to treat addiction.

Born in Germany, Gyebi-Foster moved to Ghana with his single mom and then 12 years later moved on to New York.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as they had planned and Gyebi-Foster became homeless. But he didn’t let that stop him. In the years to follow, he finished high school, raised his brother and sister, and joined the military. He then trained as a licensed clinical professional counselor, got a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, and completed a graduate degree in professional counseling. “I’ve always wanted to help people and be part of the solution,” he says.

In 2011, he joined Tuerk House as a clinical director and in 2017 became the executive director. And, as if he didn’t have enough on his plate, in 2016 he founded a neighborhood church where he serves as the pastor. And now he’s pursuing his MBA.

Tuerk House started 50 years ago, initially treating mostly alcoholism. “At that time, the average age of patients at Tuerk House was 50, and many had been addicted for 30 to 40 years,” he says. But that landscape has changed: “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen more young people aged 18 to 25 coming for help.”

Today, with the opioid crisis, the nonprofit’s five sites treat mostly drug addiction, with programs ranging from crisis stabilization, inpatient detoxification, residential treatment, and outpatient treatment to partial hospitalization, medication-assisted treatment, and peer support.

“We treat addiction as a medical disease because drug addiction actually alters the brain,” Gyebi-Foster says. But what makes Tuerk House so successful is its open door and no-judgment policy, as well as a technique called “motivational interviewing.” It breaks down the resistance that many patients have to treatment because of the stigma of addiction. And, since many of the staff are in recovery themselves, patients and families know they understand everything about the ups and downs of addiction.

“Our goal is to give patients a lifetime recovery,” says Gyebi-Foster. “It’s all about hope.” —Alice Shapin