New St. Paul facility helps East African women struggling with substance abuse

By: Abdirizak Diis

In response to the growing need for culturally sensitive substance abuse treatment, the Alliance Wellness Center has unveiled a facility dedicated to helping young East African women grappling with drug addiction, the first of its kind in the metro area.
Yussuf Shafie, founder and CEO of Alliance Wellness Center, welcomed about two dozen visitors to the new facility in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood in mid-October. Shafie emphasized that the facility is staffed with culturally competent and trauma-informed professionals who possess a deep understanding of the needs of young East African women, who might suffer from stigma, social isolation, and family neglect.
The residential facility, which accommodates up to eight people, offers programs and services including gender-specific group therapy, individual therapy, medication-assisted treatment, culturally appropriate counseling, and halal meals. Its ultimate goal is to guide women struggling with substance use disorder toward complete recovery and prepare them for successful reintegration into society.
Shafie said a women-only treatment facility was necessary because of the significant difference in how Somali culture views young women seeking help for substance abuse.
“Most of the time, people view them negatively, call them names, and they become socially isolated, and that is not good,” he said, adding that women need to feel safe and supported as they work toward sobriety.
Shafie stressed the need for a women-only facility where they can receive individualized and group therapy programs, and explore the origins of their drug problems and how they can quit.
According to data posted by Hennepin County on its website, Minnesota faced a record number of overdose deaths in 2021. A total of 1,286 individuals died of overdoses, a 22 percent increase from the previous year.
More than 8 percent of the adult population in Minnesota grapples with substance use disorder, yet only 10 percent of them receive the necessary support. In Hennepin County alone, 80,000 adults struggle with substance abuse, but only 8,000 receive assistance.
The overdose crisis disproportionately affects BIPOC communities in Minnesota. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said overdose deaths surged by 44 percent and 39 percent respectively among non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native individuals between 2019 and 2020.
Alliance Wellness Center, an addiction treatment center in Bloomington, offers multicultural services. Shafie, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, founded it to provide culturally appropriate treatment for East African immigrants. The center provides both inpatient and outpatient services, and since its opening, the center has helped many youths recover from chemical dependency.
Sahra Hassan, a parent and community activist, told Sahan Journal that young women with substance abuse problems are vulnerable and often exploited because their families abandon them.
“If a young woman becomes a drug addict, we consider her as a dead person, and they don’t get a chance for rehabilitation,” she said.
A family’s reputation in East African cultures is tightly linked to the behavior of girls, Sahra said. She implored attendees to support and keep young women at home if they are troubled rather than abandoning them when they are most in need of help.
Deeqa Hussein, another community activist, expressed her dismay at the plight of some of the young East African women she sees on the streets of Minneapolis and the steps of large apartment complexes. Some get pregnant, and if they cannot support the child, it may be taken away from them.
Deeqa said she firmly believes that everyone can recover, regardless of their circumstances.
“I never thought my child Abdirahman Warsame would ever change, but he changed,” she said.
Abdirahman Warsame, 25, a former drug addict, advocates for the elimination of the shame culture. He wrote the poem “From Addict to Advocate” and also co-founded Generation Hope, a nonprofit organization that tries to destigmatize substance abuse within the East African community.