MOUNT VERNON — Recovery housing is defined not so much in a name or term, but by what is happening within its walls.
Naomi’s House, for example, could be called a sober living home, where the occupants are in recovery and live in a family-type environment. Those operated by Riverside Recovery might accurately be called residential treatment, where the persons living there are in intensive treatment for their substance abuse addiction. Sober living occupants are usually strongly committed to recovery and are working to integrate themselves back into society. Residential recovery housing residents are often early in their recovery and may not yet be able to stay sober without the structure of a strict recovery plan. They check in and out for appointments and have educational classes going on in the house.
Sober living residents go out to meet in groups and with counselors and may have found employment. They still need the support of sober housing, and the house manager is there to assist them; their AA sponsors and recovery professionals can stop in for visits.
The third type is often referred to as “graduate housing.” People living there are usually far along into recovery, and are surrounding themselves with others in recovery who are engaged in sober living and activities. They take comfort in knowing they go home every night to a drug and alcohol free environment.
The three levels are appropriate to different levels of recovery, Behavioral Health Partners (BHP) President Kate St. James said.
“Recovery housing is a helpful resource before, during or after treatment,” James said. “Residents should expect to follow rules and actively contribute to their recovery. They are building ‘recovery capital,’ developing the skills they need to live a sober life.”
Mental Health and Recovery of Licking and Knox Counties (MHR) decided to launch Naomi’s House because of a need for women’s housing in the interim stages of recovery. Emily Morrison, community coordinator with MHR, said the purchase of the house came about through a statewide grant. Selection of sites included finding a place that was big enough to house several women, while also being “big enough for life” — big enough to have a kitchen, dining area and bathrooms for all, because a shared living experience where the women can learn, or re-learn, life skills is important, Morrison said.
State law gives definitions for recovery housing, but does not have set codes regarding their operation. There is currently no state agency that licenses recovery housing.
The definitions suggest flexibility on the length of the person in recovery’s stay. Rather than an arbitrary length of time, the state codes recommend a timeline based on the person in recovery’s progress and their needs. The law also allows for persons living in recovery housing to be eligible to receive certified mental health and recovery services.
MHR owns the house, and contract with BHP to operate it.
Most persons entering level 1-2 housing are ready to walk in, as long as they test negative for drugs and alcohol and have gone through detox. However, level 3 housing applicants sometimes to have a wait and must stay clean until a bed opens, Amy Smart, CEO and Owner of Riverside Recovery Services, said.
Smart noted that most of her clients are Knox County residents. Recovery housing is another place where they will live in their community, but their goals are changing to a life free from drug-seeking behavior and substance abuse.
“They are already here, shopping beside you, eating beside you, sitting in church with you,” Smart said. “You have drug addicts as neighbors now. Would you rather have them as your neighbors using, or in recovery?”
In Knox County, the description of the recovery facilities as ‘housing’ is somewhat literal, as all started life as single-family homes. Riverside bought their recovery house at 199 Mansfield Road actually came after their purchase of 197 Mansfield Road, a fortuitous stroke in a fight with neighbors that Smart was bound to lose.
A luke-warm reception
Riverside opened its women’s house quietly in 2018. But the men’s house at 197 Mansfield, located within the city limits of Mount Vernon across the street from a newer subdivision on Longitude and Latitude drives, was hit with opposition almost from the start.
A group of residents from the subdivision fought back when Smart applied for a change in zoning from R-1 single family residential zoning to R-3, multi-family residential. Smart had allowed in 11 residents for the house, when the city zoning code only allows for group homes with five occupants.
It seems that the residents of Longitude and Latitude had their eyes on the house from the start. In a petition bearing more than 90 signatures asking the city to deny the rezoning request, residents said the recovery house would “change the character of the neighborhood” and complained about inadequate parking as well as an increase in traffic. They felt allowing a recovery business with a 6-plus bed facility would set a dangerous precedent. In emails and the petition, residents said they had no issue with the use of the residence as recovery housing, and did not ask Riverside Recovery to move.
Smart showed up at a Jan. 25 hearing of the Municipal Planning and Zoning Board with dozens of supporters and Riverside Recovery clients. The meeting was held at the Station Break rather than city hall to accommodate the standing-room only crowds. Riverside Recovery sat on one side of the room, and the subdivision residents filled seats on the other side.
In the end, Smart withdrew her petition. Riverside purchased 199 Mansfield and shifted five clients there from 197, bringing them into compliance with the code.
Though not the ideal business model, it allowed Riverside Recovery to continue care for the residents who were mid-way through their recovery plan.
There were as many communications received in support of Smart’s petition for the change in zoning as there were opposed. Those in support reflect a change in how the courts and community agencies that assist those struggling with substance abuse view recovery.
The courts, for example, have began a shift in their probation departments from simply enforcing rules that were part of a “second chance” to avoid incarceration to hooking up probationers with the tools they need to succeed and keep from reoffending. Rather than telling probationers they can’t do drugs, then arrest them when they do, officers are part of treatment plans, helping the probationer to achieve sobriety. Municipal court and common pleas have also set up drug courts, which monitor progress and try to keep the probationer on track.
Knox County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Wetzel said drug court participants will usually have a stretch of time in a recovery facility, including recovery housing.
“Many times the court will order a person to either remain in recovery housing as a condition of their pretrial supervision or successfully complete the recovery housing program as a condition of their post-conviction community control supervision,” Wetzel said. “Not only does recovery housing offer a way to get someone into clean, safe, suitable housing, but it also provides a reliable regimen of accountability for a person who is either awaiting trial or on probation supervision through our court.”
Four homes build up treatment options in community
Every morning, the residents of four Mount Vernon homes are waking up to a day focused on recovery.
The women of The Wooster Road Home and Naomi’s House and men residing at two neighboring houses on Mansfield Avenue wake up, get their chores done and head out to appointments with counselors or stay in for group sessions. Between breakfast, lunch and dinner, their day may include in-house treatment or outpatient services and AA meetings. If they are in the court system, they may be headed out to meet with probation officers or attend drug court.
The day depends on where they are in their recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, and what role recovery housing plays in that journey.
Recovery housing is a sober place to live and learn. For many, the alternative is moving back home and trying to get sober while living on the same streets and in the same neighborhoods where they used to drink and get high.
Karen moved into Naomi’s House because she needed a sober environment plus the support that house manager Nadine Wysinger can give her. Karen moved in June 13, two days after her release from the Knox County Jail, where she was serving a sentence for a probation violation from drug-related charges.
Karen initially struggled with whether she wanted her last name published. In the end, she choose the kind of anonymity that is important to recovery groups like AA and NA, where everyone is on a first-name basis.
“I’m very comfortable here, this is home,” she said in an interview with the News at Noami’s House. “Eventually, I want to get a place of my own and start over again. I want to get my GED.”
Karen used marijuana most of her life, and started taking meth about four years ago. Her time in jail was the longest stretch she had lived free from meth, and with her pending release, she was looking for a safe place to stay where she could continue on a path to sobriety.
Karen has her own bedroom At Naomi’s House. She pays $275 per month for rent. She is welcome to stay as long as she needs; Mental Health and Recovery of Knox and Licking counties, which owns the house, decided on suspending a time requirement for residency.
The day for Noami’s House residents starts 7 a.m. Breakfast is between 7-8:30 a.m., chores for a half-hour after that and a 40-minute period of meditation. After that, the women can come and go as needed for appointments. Eventually, they will be granted privileges to sign out during weekends and attend community events.
When the option came up to attend the July 4 fireworks, however, Karen decided to opt out.
“It was an easy decision, even though I really did want to go,” Karen said. “I knew there’d be alcohol there and if I had a drink I’d want to use. I knew I was not ready.”
Wysinger is a recovering addict with a bedroom and office in the house. She comes to Naomi’s House with years of experience running sober housing in Dayton. Her professional experience and her own past with substance abuse help shape the assistance she can give residents.
One of the most important things the house offers is to get into a routine of activities that build self-esteem and self-confidence. Women who have spent a life using may never have learned simple things like preparing meals, doing laundry and keeping their homes clean. The sober life involves getting into a routine that is the exact opposite of what they have known for so long.
Getting into a routine is hard, Wysinger said, but not an unfamiliar thing.
“I remind them, you had a routine, every morning when you woke up — that daily routine focused around getting high,” Wysinger said. “You did what you needed to do to get the money to buy the drugs, made the connection with your dope dealer, went home and got high. You need to retrain your brain.”
The day at the men’s houses at 197 and 199 Mansfield and The Wooster Road Home is more regimented, fitting in with a recovery plan. The people are living there and receiving treatment for their addictions. Operated by Riverside Recovery Services, the daily schedule at the three houses includes 30 hours a week of in-patient treatment, and there are several staff members on-hand 24 hours a day. It is a schedule that reflects their being in an in-patient treatment program.
The stay is usually six months, the time it takes to complete treatment.
Riverside Recovery Services Owner and Executive Director Amy Smart said recovery housing is one of the many treatment options she can offer. It isn’t right for everyone.
The main way to get a bed in recovery housing is a firm commitment to getting clean. But the entrance exam for Naomi’s House and the houses run by Riverside Recovery are different processes.
For candidates at Noami’s House, it’s more of a kitchen table-style interview. The residents of the house will meet with the applicant, along with Wysinger. Wysinger has her own questions, and she is getting clues from their answers and their behavior.
The women already living there can ask questions as well, and Wysinger also hopes the interview process helps shed light on their own progress in recovery. A big part of the residents meeting with applicants face-to-face is to find out if they know each other. What their past relationship with the person could be a detriment to house and the women’s struggles with recovery, or it may even help.
Admittance to Riverside Recovery’s houses begins at the office. The individual is crafting a treatment program with Riverside staff.
While building a treatment program, recovery housing will be reviewed as an option, Smart said.
Smart said some individuals are found to be acceptable, but a bed is not immediately available. Many people who come to Riverside might like the idea of recovery housing, but may not be a good candidate for one reason or another.
“We’ve had to say, ‘we can’t place you,’” Smart said. “We’ve placed some who fall out. They can get another chance at recovery housing, but they go to the bottom of the list.
“If (they are accepted but) there isn’t a bed available, we will keep them in recovery until a bed opens up.”
Both Riverside and Naomi’s House are not equipped to provide the care needed for detox, and can’t take someone until their system is clean. Naomi’s House likes to see women who have been sober for 60-90 days; Riverside can admit to their recovery house programs almost immediately after detox. Everyone must pass a drug screening immediately before moving in.
The rest of this article is available to our subscribers.
Do your part to support local journalism
Subscribe to our e-edition to read this and many other articles written by your neighbors.