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COMMUNITY CARE / The vulnerable people who find themselves facing a future of change: The alcoholic: Drinker faces turning point in recovery

WITHOUT Turning Point, Tom Reddington says, he would have committed suicide or drunk himself to death by now. But after 12 months in a house in Battersea, south London, for people with drug or alcohol problems, Tom is healthier and happier than at any other time in his life, writes Rosie Waterhouse.

He is not ready to face the outside world alone yet. He stopped drinking once before, for three years, but still he gravitated back to his hard- drinking cronies on the streets where the only decision in life was what to drink. Finally, desperate for help, just over a year ago he deliberately drank himself into a stupor to get into the Salvation Army 'detox' unit so he could dry out and be referred to Turning Point. Even after a year on its rehabilitation programme Tom, 40, becomes anxious and tearful from time to time as he confronts his miserable past: an unhappy, unloved childhood, in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, from which he escaped at the age of 18 to find courage in drink and anonymity in London.

Because of his vulnerability the Department of Social Security has agreed to continue paying for Tom to stay with Turning Point for another 12 months. Meanwhile he makes himself useful doing voluntary work and hopes to get a place at college soon to qualify as a social worker and eventually, to get a job.

After 1 April, when community care comes into force, the rehabilitation programme has been condensed into six months to be affordable to local authorities who must in future pay for the service. Cash for drug and alcohol projects will not be 'ring-fenced' and many fear they will have to close if councils cannot afford to pay.

Turning Point in Cambridge has already been told that its council grant will not continue after April because of new commitments for community care. In Battersea there may have to be cuts, too. Asked if six months would have been enough for him, Tom shudders and shakes his head. 'I would have been back on the bottle in no time at all.'

How successful the six-month programme will be for new cases at Battersea remains to be seen. 'For some people it's going to work,' Christine Bagley, a counsellor, said. 'For others, like Tom, it will not be what they need. Hopefully there will be other choices for them.'