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Safe and stable housing is the foundation for a successful recovery

Safe and stable housing is the foundation for a successful recovery

Safe and stable housing is the foundation for a successful recovery

By Taylor Sisk

Amy Drum has a new grandson and can’t wait to get home to see him.

Drum, who lives in the Piedmont town of Lincolnton, North Carolina, had been clean from heroin and methamphetamine for quite some time before relapsing. It was pretty rough for a while. Eventually, he entered treatment.

Since April, she has found sustenance and support in this temporary home she shares with two other women, also in recovery: a small house in the countryside less than half an hour from home, but a world away from the previous tumult.

These accommodations are provided by Integrated Care of Greater Hickory (ICGH), which promotes the lifelong recovery of individuals with substance use disorders.

“Extremely quiet,” is how Drum describes the past six weeks. After completing hospital treatment, she wanted to go home, but now she admits she needed this respite.

“Housing is the foundation,” says Corey Richardson, ICGH’s chief clinical officer and CEO, “the foundation for recovery. ICGH embraces the concept of truly integrated care. A safe, comfortable place to rest is the starting point.

To further its housing recovery efforts, ICGH has received support from the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that promotes affordable housing efforts throughout rural America.

Nearly all of ICGH’s staff are in recovery from substance use disorder. Pictured are Andrew Dodson, Shelby Center Director, Rebecca Collins, Executive Director of Housing, and Rick Warner, Director of Housing. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

“Because we are in rural communities, we hear from our partners about the devastation caused by the overdose crisis,” said Natasha Moodie, a research associate at HAC. “We continue to hear from our partners that access to safe and stable housing is a critical factor in people’s success in the recovery process.”

Moodie said HAC recognized the need for closer collaboration at the community level to address the housing shortage for those in recovery. It is now building partnerships with ICGH and others across the country.

As essential as medical advice or prescription

“He’s come a long way,” Rebecca Collins, ICGH’s executive director of housing, said of Nathan Prentice.

Prentice started smoking marijuana when he was 8 and was using hard drugs by age 11. That path landed him in prison. He has been living in an ICGH Day One Recovery Homes townhouse for a year. It has given him the stability he needed to stay drug-free.

Assuming he remains committed to his recovery, “I know they’ll let me stay as long as I need to,” Prentice said.

Assuming he remains committed to his recovery, “I know they will let me stay as long as I need to,” said Nathan Prentice, who has been living in a Day One recovery home for a year. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

A decade ago, Richardson said, virtually all of the housing programs the region offered to people in recovery were abstinence-only, excluding those taking buprenorphine-based medications, such as Suboxone, as part of their treatment for opioid use disorder.

“We didn’t have recovery housing, so we decided to do it ourselves,” Richardson said. “It’s been a very organic process. It’s very strategic around needs. What does the community need? What does the patient need?” A stable recovery environment, she believes, is as essential as counseling or a prescription.

The HAC Loan Fund provided ICGH with half a million dollars to purchase properties for residential recovery homes. The fund provides low-interest loans to support affordable housing projects for single-family and multi-family homes in rural areas of the United States. Funding is available for a wide variety of purposes. Among its initiatives is support for recovery homes that offer medication for opioid use disorder.

Day One Recovery Homes offers housing options designed to best meet the needs of each individual based on where they are in their recovery.

Nearly all ICGH staff members are in recovery. Peer support is critical “to help live, to accompany these people day to day,” Collins said. “They’re scared, they’re ashamed, they’re stigmatized, and you just see the weight lifted off their shoulders when all we have to say is, ‘We validate what you’re feeling. We’ve been through it.’”

If a resident relapses, he or she is not automatically evicted. It is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

To help local organizations address the housing shortage for people in recovery, HAC created the Recovery and Affordable Housing Group. Richardson assists in this initiative by presenting best practices for initiating successful recovery programs and offering ongoing collaboration with organizations in the group as they develop their recovery housing programs.

In spring 2021, the nonprofit purchased a 20,000-square-foot former office building. They then received a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to develop recovery housing. In spring 2023, they joined the HAC cohort.

Bridges to Recovery serves both Marinette County, Wisconsin, and adjacent Menominee County, Michigan, a vast rural region. Like most rural communities, homelessness here is largely hidden.

Integrated Care of Greater Hickory embraces the concept of truly integrated care. “Housing is the foundation,” said Corey Richardson, ICGH CEO and chief clinical officer. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

“If you were to interview someone in this community who wasn’t in the social services field, they probably wouldn’t even know we have homeless people,” said Meghan Rutherford, the organization’s project director.

In both counties, there is only one homeless shelter, which can accommodate four people. People often sleep on the same couch or build some kind of minimal shelter. Sleeping in a tent during “horrendous winters,” Rutherford said, can be fatal.

Under one roof, Bridges to Recovery will offer tiered levels of housing, from communal housing to one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“Our community is very grateful that we are here,” Rutherford said.

After playing professional basketball in Europe and then coaching, Marquetta Dickens returned home to eastern North Carolina and founded Princeville-based Freedom Org, which invests in historically Black and low- to moderate-income communities through three initiatives: community economic development, strengthening local food systems and preserving farmland for minority farmers, and cultural preservation.

Freedom Org is pushing its housing recovery initiative in a deliberate way. Dickens recognizes the benefits of getting people out of environments where they have struggled.

“We’re really looking to build a community rather than just random houses here and there,” she said. Finding potential options in this rural region is a tall order, particularly given Freedom Org’s mission to preserve farmland. Much of the land in the area is in a flood plain, further limiting options.

Participation in the HAC cohort has been very beneficial for Freedom Org, Dickens said. It has prompted them to consider a variety of housing options. “Right now we’re trying to figure out what’s most needed in our community.”

Kathy Draughn (right), from a rural community about an hour east of the ICGH base in Hickory, was homeless when she started taking Suboxone and later found a home at ICGH. Here, she said, she also found family, including Tonya Lawson, of Greensboro. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

“I’m glad I came here first”

Luke Laudermilk of Marion, North Carolina, has been living in Day One Recovery housing for almost a year.

“At an early age, I fell in with the wrong crowd from the start and got fully into amphetamine use and opioid disorder.”

He tried to quit drugs several times, “but I never succeeded, because I always tried to go back to my hometown, thinking I could do it alone.”

“It wasn’t until I got here, got a sponsor and got into the NA halls that I realized this is a ‘we’ program. I can’t get myself back on my own. You need a support system.”

Back at the country house Amy Drum shares with two other women, the days are calm. Occasionally, the lady who lives next door fills vases on the porch with flowers.

“It was my birthday two weeks ago,” said Peyton Womack of Lincolnton, who lives with us, “and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t using or high on my birthday.” Drum made chicken Alfredo. “We got cupcakes and stuff like that, and it felt good to have a birthday without using drugs.”

The day also marked seven months of being drug-free, “so it was a really nice birthday present.”

Amy Drum (left) and Peyton Womack share a Day One Recovery Home in rural Piedmont, North Carolina. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

“Most of the people we see in our program who have serious illnesses started taking medications at a young age; they have a history of trauma,” Richardson said. They need time and resources to start moving toward stability. She believes safe and comfortable housing is critical.

Amy Drum is ready to go home. “But I’m glad I came here first,” she said. That first day in the house, she said, she wanted to use. “But after that day, I haven’t had any problems.”

“I’m excited,” she said. Her grandson just turned 7 months old.

This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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