Ohio invests big in opening recovery houses for heroin addicts

These houses are seen as crucial to addressing heroin crisis, but some neighbors unconvinced.

Closer look

Our reporters have closely followed the heroin crisis for years with a eye toward finding solutions. Find previous stories on our premium website myDaytonDailyNews.com.

When residents of the Ome Garden neighborhood got word of plans for moving recovering drug addicts into a vacant house, they didn’t like what they were hearing.

A meeting of the residents brokered by Harrison Twp. officials became so contentious one of the participants had to be escorted out.

“If they had rope they would have hung me up,” said Dirk Oglesby, who founded 3rd Chance Ministries, which has purchased other properties in the region to house recovering heroin addicts who have gone through treatment.

Two months later, on March 12, 2014, fire engulfed the house at 2405 Berwyck Ave. during the dead of night. No one was hurt, but it was a close call: Oglesby had handed over keys to two people just the day before.

Addiction experts say the road to sobriety for a drug addict doesn’t end after spending one, two or three months in a treatment program. To keep addicts from relapsing — and staying clear of old influences — sometimes requires a transition from treatment back into jobs and the community. Opening “recovery houses” in neighborhoods is a big focus of faith-based organizations, non-profits, some private citizens and now the state of Ohio through county drug boards.

But neighborhood residents don’t always welcome the recovery houses. It’s not clear if the March 2014 fire was arson — the Ohio Fire Marshal is still investigating — but the siting of a recovery house is controversial enough that many are purchased and opened quietly with no notice going out to neighbors.

Jessica Farley, 40, a mother of four who lives just down the street from the house, spoke out against Oglesby’s plans at the meeting.

“Just because you think they’re OK and they just came out of drug rehab and they really want to start their life over, that doesn’t mean you jeopardize everybody else in a plat that’s already been here for years,” she said in an interview.

Huge public cost

The model for an effective recovery from heroin addiction is still being shaped, according to treatment specialists, but one thing is clear: giving more people a path to recovery is in everybody’s interest.

The recidivism that clogs courts and jails has a huge public cost. A state study published in 2013 — even before the heroin crisis peaked — showed how expensive illegal activity and incarceration can be. One model of housing included in the report provided a per-tenant savings of $29,000 compared to not putting them in housing.

When you consider the number of Ohioans needing substance abuse treatment — 926,000 at the time of the report — getting more people in recovery houses is paramount.

“What we heard most of the time was housing was what helped them really stay in their sobriety,” said Pamela Hartley, Recovery Housing Program coordinator at the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board of Montgomery County. “Many people told us they had been in treatment three, four or five times,” each time falling back into a familiar pattern after returning to their previous environment.

Recovery houses provide an after-treatment transition for addicts, who often need the structure the houses provide to stay sober. But there is a wide disparity in the type of programming that occurs in these houses, and little standardization in a rapidly changing environment in which new houses are opening all the time.

Hartley emphasized that the entire treatment landscape is in transition.

“Everyone, including people at the state, is kind of walking one step at a time because there really isn’t a blueprint for how to do this,” she said.

Investing in recovery

The recovery houses are part of a multi-pronged strategy for fighting the heroin epidemic. The Ohio General Assembly in 2014 passed legislation that better defined recovery housing and allocated money to local Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services boards to boost the number of beds.

So far, the state has spent $12.5 million and helped open up hundreds of beds. At the end of the last year, the allocation funded 10 recovery house beds in Montgomery County and three in Clark County.

The legislation requires that operators receiving state funds provide administrative oversight, maintain quality standards and implement certain policies and procedures including rules for residents.

“Making sure Ohioans have access to a sober living environment to help nurture and sustain the recovery process is critically important, especially as our nation continues to grapple with the opiate epidemic,” said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “Investing in recovery supports such as housing and employment improve outcomes exponentially.”

By the end of the next budget cycle, Plouck said the state hopes to have increased capacity by nearly 1,000 beds.

Locally, the ADAMHS board has an ambitious goal to purchase enough houses – roughly 25 – to accommodate 100 beds, said Pam Hartley, Recovery Housing Program coordinator.

‘We want the residents … to be safe.’

It’s difficult to determine how many recovery houses exist or where. Federal fair housing laws prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities, including addictions. Any private citizen or entity can also open a recovery house with little more than adherence to local building, occupancy and zoning codes.

Operators don’t broadcast their locations for a reason, said Ann Stevens, ADAMHS spokeswoman.

“It’s supposed to be like your house or my house, where they can go to work, live their lives and recover,” she said. “We want the residents of the houses to be safe. We want them to be able to go about their daily business without fear they are being stigmatized and labeled by others who don’t know what recovery housing can bring to a neighborhood.”

Some of the properties are developed by faith-based and other non-profits like those owned by 3rd Chance and Joshua Recovery Ministries in Dayton, and those operated by McKinley Hall and Gemini Reliance in Springfield. County drug boards, including ADAMHS in Montgomery County, are also purchasing homes and partnering with non-profits.

Four clients typically share a recovery house with a live-in house monitor or manager. Stays can average nine months to a year with some staying up to two years, Hartley said. There are no regulations limiting the duration of a stay. Those who are successful and have the skills may be asked to stay on as house manager.

Teaching life skills

Stacy Duda and Dana Jenkins, both 28, are now out of rehab and sharing a recovery house in Dayton operated by the Holt Street Miracle Center.

“If there weren’t places like these available there would be a lot more deaths because those treatment programs aren’t long enough,” Jenkins said. “That’s why I was so adamant about getting here.”

Duda lost custody of her five-year-old daughter after her heroin habit spiraled out of control. After a second time in rehab she was nine months clean. But then her brother died of a heroin overdose and she went back to using. She cleaned up once more and called Holt Street every week until she got a bed.

It’s where she thinks she has the best chance to stay off heroin for good.

“With the structure we have here, this time around it might save my life,” she said. “I hope this time is the right time… I definitely hope to get my daughter back. It’s my main priority right now besides working in my recovery.”

Walter Gilbert, executive director of the Holt Street Miracle Center, said those leaving rehab need far more than “three hots and a cot.” Many never learned the essentials needed to function successfully in society, he said.

“A lot of people have been getting high since they were teenagers. They don’t have life skills like you and I,” Gilbert said. “They don’t have personal hygiene habits — getting up washing, taking a shower; food preparation. Those are the kind of things that we offer for our population to get back in the mainstream.”

Aside from adhering to a set schedule, those in recovery houses are required to participate in group counseling sessions several days a week and have daily chores to keep the house in shape. Being held accountable by peers is a key motivating factor.

“They still have rules but it’s not like we’re in some concentration camp or anything. We have our freedom,” Duda said. “We do what we do but we have to do it right.”

Many enter recovery housing without a job, but once employed clients are expected to pay rent. Duda is now working as a cashier and Jenkins is a cook. At Holt Street, rent amounts to 30 percent of their earnings.

Improving neighborhoods

Recovery housing advocates say the investment in the properties is actually improving neighborhoods. Unlike active users, those in recovery houses are” committed to not using alcohol or drugs,” said Lori Criss, associate director for The Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers, and principal advisor for Ohio Recovery Housing.

Springfield twins Chuck and Mike Rollins say neighbors of their recovery houses were already living in fear — fear of drug dealers and users that not too long ago included people like them.

Chuck sold heroin; both used it. Each spent time in jail. Their own long-term recovery includes a commitment to Gemini Reliance, a non-profit they formed in 2014, which currently operates four recovery houses in Springfield.

Ironically, in many cases the homes rehabbed for use as recovery houses were the very neighborhood eyesores stripped of appliances, metal siding, copper pipe and wiring once sold to get drug money, providers say.

Squatters had lived for four years in a house on Lagonda Avenue that the Rollins brothers bought at a foreclosure sale. Last year the state awarded $29,400 in funding to what they call the Winthrop House.

Anthony Lane, who lives just across the street from the Winthrop House, said the home put back into service by Gemini Reliance has “turned around the attitude of the people” and made his block a safer place to live.

He said he no longer walks his wife of 26 years to the car or is concerned if she arrives home in the dark.

He also said he sees less drug activity: “It’s about time for someone to come up with a solution to the problem. I would say that sober living houses are a solution.”

‘I know what addiction is.’

Nina Hatfield remains unconvinced.

Since 1976, the now retired mental health and alcohol and drug counselor has lived a few doors down from the Berwyck Avenue property that burned to the ground in 2014.

Her children grew up on the street, graduated from Northridge High School, and now a granddaughter lives a couple blocks away. Her voice was among those speaking out against having a recovery house in the neighborhood.

“I’m familiar with the background of what these places are about, but I do not think this was a place for that,” Hatfield said. “Maybe someplace else in the community… They need to be some where neighbors can be more protected.”

Hatfield said her experience with drug abusers often seemed like a revolving door: “They go into treatment houses and then they’re right back out in the community and then the people in the community have to deal with it.

“I know what addiction is,” she added. “I know people will go to any length to get their fix.”

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