For over 30 years, a former sports bar and an adjacent storefront on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica served as a shelter where people battling substance abuse could be introduced to the recovery process.

Though they were not designed as a social service facility, the buildings operated by the CLARE Foundation were a place for those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction to detox and receive services as they began to improve their lives.

But over time the buildings, 50 and 75 years old respectively, were decaying and not up to the same quality as the treatment that clients were receiving, CLARE officials said. The CLARE Foundation is a Santa Monica-based nonprofit organization that works to provide substance abuse treatment and recovery services to individuals and families, with 11 residential and non-residential programs throughout the Westside.

“What we do here is simple — we save lives through recovery and help people turn around what was a desperate situation into a hopeful situation,” said Nicholas Vrataric, CLARE executive director.

The foundation was having difficulty accommodating the many people who were seeking help at its aging detox facility and board members knew they had to make improvements to the structure, including adding more beds.

After a ten-year process that was assisted by a nearly $1 million grant from the State of California and funding from several foundations as well as county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s office, the renovated $2 million Detox/Primary program facility has finally opened. CLARE officials dedicated the new buildings at Ninth Street and Pico Boulevard Thursday, May 13th during a ceremony attended by Santa Monica city officials and other organization supporters.

Representatives of the social service agency explain that the program is a client’s first step towards recovery by providing support through detoxification, counseling sessions, 12-step meetings and drug and alcohol education.

Vrataric noted that a significant change is that the program will now be able to accept many more people after oftentimes having to direct clients to other shelters in the past. The new detox facilities, which provide food, shelter and a safe place to recover, will be able to serve about 1,500 people a year, 300 more people than before, Vrataric said. Thirteen beds have been added to the program for a total of 49 beds.

“This is where over 1,500 people a year will end their ordeal on the streets and begin the journey to a sober life and permanent housing,” Vrataric told the dedication ceremony crowd.

“This is what our clients deserve; they deserve to recover in a facility that reflects the dignities of the choices they made and we couldn’t be more proud.”

CLARE officials note that the renovations will increase the agency’s ability to serve its clients in need and will provide ample meeting and counseling space for those seeking recovery. Architect Ralph Mechur, who also serves on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board, designed the interior of the buildings. He said he was delighted with how the facilities turned out and he designed them to offer a friendly atmosphere, have natural light, to be low maintenance and long lasting.

Yaroslavsky, who attended the dedication ceremony, called the detox program a great project, saying such facilities are not easy to finance or locate but they are “absolutely necessary as the first step towards recovery.”

“Addiction is a difficult thingÖ and it requires the kind of compassion as well as firmness that the CLARE Foundation offers to people to help get them back on their feet,” the supervisor said.

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown said the city and CLARE have had a long and productive relationship in which the city has contributed $3 million to the agency for its efforts over the last 30 years. He praised the organization for helping people in the community overcome their addictions and hopes the “miracle” can spread throughout the region.

“We need to get the whole region to have a multiplicity of CLAREs so we can make this miracle happen for all of those who need it,” he said.

CLARE officials explain that by the time clients arrive at the program, they may have lost their homes, jobs and families, but they find a supportive environment on their path toward a sober life. Samantha Mann is one former client who says she felt like she lost everything after developing an addiction to pills but she was thankful to CLARE for giving her the support she was looking for.

“I felt that it was the one place that extended me the most compassion,” said Mann, who now works as a counselor in the Detox/Primary program.