A Conversation with Cathy Baker & Chastity Griffin from Recovery Café Lexington
A bright orange door greets visitors to the Recovery Café in Lexington on Versailles Road. The inside is equally cheery, full of art and bookshelves, coffee and donuts always out for the taking, and festive gold streamers hanging from the garage event space from a recent sober drag show.
Cathy greets visitors who walk into the Café. She grew up in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, and is a retired teacher and medical transcriptionist with degrees in journalism, elementary education, and special education. But now she works at Recovery Café, and as she describes it, this is her passion. “Finally, you get to retire and do what you love to do,” she says.
Cathy has been in recovery herself for 31 years coming up here soon, and these days she spends her time doing data entry for the Café, picking up donated meals from Food Chain or donuts from Donut Days, or making pots of coffee for folks who walk in the door. “I do whatever needs to be done,” she says. “I have gained so many tools in recovery and I want to use my skills to help save lives.”
She has been here since the early days, before 2020 when the Café first opened and when it was still in planning stages. When co-founders Jason and Josh decided to start a Recovery Café in Lexington, Cathy remembers: “I told them I would help. We had to find a place, pull all the ugly wallpaper off the wall, remodel it, and make it presentable. We started small. But now we’ve really grown.”
And, the Café continues to grow. Just this past December, a second Recovery Café space opened up in Lexington. It is called Kate’s Place, and is run in partnership with AVOL of Kentucky by Chastity Griffin and her team.
Talking with Chastity, you can hear the love radiate for the work she does and for the mission of Kate’s Place. She is from Warsaw, Kentucky, and recounts a childhood of foster care and homelessness. But one day she found the Community Action Council, which as she puts it, helped her go from homelessness to higher education. She is currently working on her doctorate in education and leadership at UK, researching and writing about educating homelessness case managers around the realities of racial disparities and racism.
Kate’s Place, though, is built not just on deep experience and education, but out of deep grief. Chastity’s sister died of an overdose in 2021, and Kate’s Place was “built in heartache” in the aftermath and mourning of her death.
But out of and in the midst of that grief and mourning, Chastity and the Recovery Café team have built not just one, but now two, spaces in Lexington that are filled with love and hope. “The thing about Recovery Café is it is a space of love. That’s what’s so special about this place,” Chastity says, and it is clear she takes that mission seriously. The Kate’s Place branch of the Café specifically focuses on the connections between recovery and housing, providing case management and supportive resources for those struggling with homelessness.
The original Recovery Café recognizes these connections too. Cathy was wearing her Housing First shirt the day I came by to talk. “For some people,” she says, “this is the only meal they get all day. If folks are homeless, they can at least come in and get coffee and a donut and stay for the meal. Even just using the bathroom, taking a shower, that makes a difference.”
“There’s a lot of steps in between being homeless and getting a job,” she reminds us.“There’s a lot of basics, like just having clothes and a place to shower, that have to happen first.”
For Cathy and Chastity, the connections between substance use, homelessness, and recovery are clear. Cathy notes how one can so easily lead to the other: “Addiction leads to job loss and job loss leads to lack of income to pay for housing. Rent has risen over the years. Most of us are just one or two paychecks away from homelessness.” She also noted that while “homelessness is another barrier to recovery, housing brings stability and aids recovery.”
“It’s a long process to get out of” Cathy says, “and some folks have been in it so long, they’ve just given up.”
Chastity says, “When you’re struggling with homelessness, you may not be an addict. You may be recovering from childhood trauma, financial instability, any number of things.” But she says she’s also watched folks who are struggling with homelessness start using substances to cope. “Once you’re homeless for so long, you’re not the same person, you don’t even think the same,” she says. “It’s hard to cope.”
Cathy asks us to recognize that “There are many reasons folks are homeless: addiction and inability to work, mental illness, or just being down on your luck. Don’t judge a homeless person. Most would prefer to have decent housing but can’t afford it, can’t hold a job, or can’t kick their addiction. If they are dirty and smelly, it is because they have nowhere to take a shower or wash their clothes. They deserve dignity and affordable housing.”
Chastity also reminds us, “It could be you. It could be your loved one. Someone you’re close to. Homelessness does not discriminate.”
And when asked what their hopes for the Café are, Chastity says she’d like to see everybody in the community as passionate about recovery as they are. “Homelessness is one of the loneliest feelings, one that no one should have to feel” she says. “You’re not very educated if you hang out with people like you all the time. Come hang out with someone not like you for a bit.”
Cathy also invites the Lexington community to “come and hang out. We need donations of food, game night snacks. We need people to bring in meals. But also, just come join game night, spend one on one time with folks not like you.”
Recovery Café Lexington is a recovery-focused, community space located in Lexington, Kentucky on Versailles Road and open Wednesday-Saturday. They have a second location, Kate’s Place, currently operating out of AVOL of Kentucky that focuses closely on supportive case management for homelessness and that is open right now on Friday afternoons. They are part of the larger national Recovery Café network and are a Lex End Homelessness (LEH) Continuum of Care member.
Get involved with LEH by joining the Continuum of Care today. Partnership is free and highly encouraged for any organization or person working in the field of human services. You can also contact one of our many partners, such as Recovery Café, to ask about opportunities to get involved. Learn more on our website or by following us on social media @lexendhomelessness.