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DUO GOES BACK TO BASICS IN HELPING THOSE IN NEED

Former substance abusers, a dozen or more, sit around the table, bibles in hand, when Anthony Brown walks in and commands their attention for the next hour and a half.

"I'm wondering," Brown asked the group, "why did we end up in this dilemma?"

"We're caught up in the street," said one group member.

"Get rid of the man inside," Brown told them. "The man that says, 'I've got to get high just one more time and then won't do it anymore.' "

Brown and James Giles are founders of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, a little faith-based, not-for-profit on Broadway that's soon to become a lot larger in a neighborhood in need.

Back to Basics is in line to receive more than $1.8 million in federal housing dollars from the City of Buffalo to finish redeveloping an old auto parts store into a 34-unit supported-living facility, where Brown, Giles and staff will help drug users overcome their addictions.

The project -- which has been in the works since the huge, boarded-up building nearby on Broadway was donated to Back to Basics a couple years ago -- almost came apart for lack of financing, when Buffalo put the federal HOME dollars on the table. While the project and funds are still under review, city officials expect final approval soon so work on the building can begin by late fall or early winter.

"It's a great project," said Timothy E. Wanamaker, city commissioner of strategic planning. "That's the reason we decided to put so much money behind it."

Brown, 45, and Giles, 55, met and found God at Cape Vincent Correctional Facility, where Brown was jailed on a drug conviction and Giles was behind bars for forgery.

Since starting Back to Basics in 1994 in a tiny church basement on Jefferson Avenue, the two have used a blend of street smarts, counseling and spiritual principles to help others turn around their lives.

They've found work for the unemployed, pulled addicts out of crack houses, helped ex-convicts fit back into the mainstream and took to the streets to get youth off the corners.

Spiritual group discussions, like this one recently, are a frequent and mandatory part of the Back to Basics program, where many of the clients are referred by the courts, or other drug rehabilitation programs. Others are walk-ins and homeless.

"Ask yourself this question, 'What kind of future do I have?' " Brown said to the group. "Take it one step further, 'What kind of future do my children have if they have to depend on me?' "

Planners want the not-for-profit -- which had previously received $600,000 in federal community development block grant funding for this project -- to hold off on visions of the facility as a larger neighborhood center.

Since Buffalo came under fire from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its use of federal housing aid, the city is being cautious during the approval process to make sure the project can be managed by Back to Basics, Wanamaker said.

"They're a young group in that they have not done a project of this scope before," he said.

That said, the care from the city is also a sign that it's committed to making the project happen for a neighborhood where drugs are a problem.

The proposed supported-living facility -- on Broadway, between Adams and Grey streets -- will include kitchen, dining and office space, as well as efficiencies for staff who will be at the facility around the clock.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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