Providing Technical Support for NARR 1&2 Recovery Housing

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Editorial by Bill Lauer, Founder of Friends of Recovery, Inc.

Posted by on February 23, 2015 at 12:50 AM

Safe housing a must for long term Sobriety

When I was in treatment, I was advised to not go back to my hometown Milwaukee, where I used drugs. My using was so wrapped up in so many neighborhoods there; I knew I couldn’t find a place to live without temptation. My using history was all around me. I was very lucky to find a well-run sober house in another state to call home for 3 months after my insurance ran out. I was able to stay as long as I needed to get comfortable with my sobriety. At that time, the sober housing option didn’t exist in Wisconsin. Today’s addicts and alcoholics are more fortunate. The network of sober housing in Wisconsin has grown over the years. But not enough to meet today’s need.

The best sober houses are democratically run to teach us addicts and alcoholics how to live with others. Self-governance teaches us about accountability and cooperation. If there is a “house manager” to gain the favor of, we never get the chance to learn to be 100% responsible for our lives. Paying our own rent relieves the burden of our recovery from society. And we use a proven, evidence-based system of operations like Oxford House. Members who relapse are immediately expelled, which teaches us to be serious about recovery and to protect our sobriety. People can re-apply after 30 days, which teaches us compassion and offers us hope in our own recovery. Sober houses are not extensions of treatment centers, churches or Corrections. They are single family houses where members vote on all aspects of house operations including who lives there. No one is asked to leave without cause. The members’ common commitment to recovery creates a peer to peer community that stresses accountability where the principle of one addict helping another has proven to work in a way that treatment or incarceration cannot.

Because of the chronic nature of addiction, long-term support is necessary to help people learn a sober lifestyle. It is well documented that stable housing is the foundation of success when working with at risk populations. For drug addicts and alcoholics this is especially true. Everybody recovers at a different pace. In 2012, 23,395 individuals received treatment in Wisconsin. Statistically, about 60% will relapse the first year and require additional treatments. Nationally, the average number of times people will go to inpatient treatment is 3.2 times; 6 times if we are treating heroin addiction. The current system gets pretty expensive. For those utilizing a long-term sober house in their recovery about 80% are likely to still be sober at the end of that year compared to those that just went to treatment and attended meetings or counseling.

There is no ongoing cost to taxpayers to operate an Oxford House. The members themselves share that responsibility. It does cost taxpayers a little for the technical assistance and the support necessary to maintain a network of houses, usually, pennies on the dollar of treatment or incarceration costs. The average cost of living in a sober house in Madison is $450 per bed, per month, where the resident pays their rent and they can stay as long as they want. Rent includes utilities, internet, supplies, etc., everything except food, personal products and bedding. County or state financed half way houses cost close to $2000 per bed per month and every 30 days or so have to make room for the next group coming out of treatment, usually before the people living there are ready to move on. This forces them to go back to the same environment that supported their addiction. This is a set up for failure. It’s like giving a diabetic insulin and a pamphlet and sending them home with no follow up care to change their diet and other known causes of diabetes.

Sober houses are not a replacement for treatment, counseling or 12-step groups. They build on those programs and provide a safe place to integrate life skills with people working on the same life issues. My parents taught me well, but in my using, I forgot how to live. I needed to relearn the basics of self-sufficiency. More than half the members of sober houses have done jail or prison time and experienced homelessness. About 30% participate in jail diversion or bail monitoring programs. Since stable housing is a bed rock of stopping recidivism, low cost sober housing can be expanded to meet this need, without adding a huge cost to taxpayers.

Most addicts want to recover and build new lives and repair the damage they have done in the world. We do not need a handout. Handouts sabotage the recovery principle of accepting responsibility for our actions. Many of us have spent a lot of government money in treatment centers for which we owe a debt to society. Living in democratically run, self-financed, cooperative housing has proven to work, allowing people to become responsible, taxpaying members of society.

There are a growing number of states that have been using sober housing to support their AODA treatment, Jail Diversion and re-entry programs. The research shows lower recidivism, lower relapse rates, increased incomes for those living in sober housing, lower costs to the state and an increase in lives saved by adding this option to the continuum of recovery and support services. Wisconsin should be one of them.




Bill Lauer is the founder of Friends of Recovery, Inc. which has been involved with opening 14 sober houses in Wisconsin using the Oxford House, Inc. concept since 2000.


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