By EILEEN MCCLORY
Ben Hippensteel says a Findlay recovery home for men played a huge role in his continuing recovery from alcohol addiction.
“The house gave me, as a resident, it gave me a safe place where I could process who I was and who I wanted to be,” said Hippensteel, who went on to serve as the men’s recovery home coordinator and now works for the nonprofit Focus on Friends as program coordinator.
“I was there with other residents who were committed to their recovery as well, so I was with like-minded people that supported each other and didn’t judge each other,” he said.
The Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) owns two recovery homes in Findlay, both of which opened in 2015.
ADAMHS and Focus on Friends, which manages the homes, say the homes have been successful in reducing relapses and creating better outcomes for residents who go through the homes.
The homes are a place for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction to live and have support. Participants must be drug- and alcohol-free for 30 days before entering the house, as well as pass an interview and application process.
The homes are not treatment facilities, but do have support staffs. The homes are certified by the Ohio chapter of the National Association for Recovery Residences.
ADAMHS bought one five-bedroom home, on West Hardin Street, in the summer of 2015 for $170,000. A second four-bedroom home was purchased in the same time period on West Melrose Avenue for $159,000.
The first year the recovery homes were open, most of the people in the homes successfully completed their stays, according to data provided by Executive Director Ellyn Schmeising of Focus on Friends.
Schmeising said in the 2016 fiscal year, which began July 1, 2015, and ended June 30, 2016, the recovery homes served 13 people. Three people were asked to leave for rule infractions. Four people stayed in the homes into the 2017 fiscal year and were counted as part of 2017’s population served.
“Successful” completion occurs when a resident has followed the program agreement and moves out of the recovery home by his or her choice, in line with the program’s belief in a self-directed length of stay, Schmeising said.
Schmeising said the homes served 21 people in the 2017 fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2016, and ending June 30, 2017. Numbers for how many people left the home successfully in fiscal year 2017 are not yet available.
A 2013 report sponsored by the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers and the Center for Social Innovation cites extensive research showing recovery homes to be cost-efficient and creating better long-term outcomes for participants. The report recommended more recovery homes be available in Ohio.
Life in the homes
The recovery homes program in Findlay is meant to help those in recovery in their daily lives, Schmeising said.
“The cool thing about it is that it looks like your life or mine, so residents get up, eat breakfast, they go to work, do things that any other person would do, and they have access to continuous support through the house,” Schmeising said.
Residents pay $412 a month for a program fee, Schmeising said. The rate includes programs and all utilities, cable, phone and internet.
There is also a subsidy for new residents to allow them to get back into a regular routine, she said.
The fee and subsidy are administered and collected by the ADAMHS board, she said.
In the three years the program has operated, Schmiesing said some practices have changed. It took time to figure out how to track data on success and what policies to implement, she said.
“A lot of it’s just growing pains of figuring out how to implement the best practices that are going to work here in Findlay. That’s been the majority of it,” Schmiesing said.
The homes have a set of program rules that participants must abide by, Schmiesing said.
Participants must have a job or be actively looking for work. If a person cannot work, they must attend school or volunteer in the community.
The homes have a lengthy application process, to ensure a candidate for the home can properly take advantage of the resources the home has to offer, Hippensteel said. The process includes an application, an interview and meeting residents already in the home.
When ADAMHS proposed creating recovery homes in 2015, a citizens group, Save Our Neighborhoods, actively opposed a proposed home on Greendale Avenue. The group ended up buying the house from ADAMHS and then sold it to a private owner.
The group, which has about 220 followers, still meets once a week, said its president, Tom Quarrie. He said its goals are to be a watchdog of ADAMHS and come up with different, better solutions to the drug crisis than what is being presented by the ADAMHS board.
“We’re not necessarily opposed to the recovery homes,” Quarrie said. “We are opposed to the way they are operating these recovery homes.”
He compared the operation of the recovery homes to a canoe rescuing survivors from the Titanic — a lot of expense for little results.
Quarrie said his organization would prefer to see more prevention programs so people don’t get addicted to opiates, more police officers on the streets, longer probation periods for those who have been convicted of drug offenses, job-placement programs, and a therapeutic facility for current and former addicts.
“We firmly believe that it’s much more effective in the long run to prevent the use of drugs than to try to cure those that are already addicted,” he said.
Precia Stuby, executive director of the Hancock County ADAMHS board, said funding for the homes comes from Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services grants as well as local levy dollars.
In fiscal year 2018, the current fiscal year, Focus on Friends budgeted $86,215, of which ADAMHS is paying $80,000. A state grant is funding $48,000, and local dollars will cover the remaining $32,000.
In fiscal year 2017, Focus on Friends budgeted $87,485 and spent $63,748.
In fiscal years 2015 and 2016, the state granted ADAMHS $91,000 to start the homes, which was the entire budget for those two years.
Stuby said the recovery homes are required to be available under Ohio law, along with ambulatory and sub-acute detoxification, non-intensive and intensive outpatient services, medication-assisted treatment, peer support and residential services.
“It’s not an option not to have recovery homes available,” Stuby said.
People working in the homes say those who live in the homes have better long-term outcomes.
Even those who leave involuntarily have fewer negative consequences once they have left, Schmiesing said.
“The individuals we know who have left recovery housing, very few of them have had increased negative outcomes after that, regardless of whether they were dismissed from the home or they left,” Schmiesing said, including jail time or relapsing into addiction.
Schmiesing also said the quality of relationships has improved between those who lived in the recovery homes and their friends and family. That’s important, Schmiesing said, because those relationships can help people stay away from their substance addiction.
For women who have stayed in the recovery homes, Schmiesing said the quality of their relationships improved by 24 percent. Men’s quality of relationships improved by 18 percent.
The numbers have been tracked since 2015, when the centers opened.
Hippensteel and Schmiesing both said the road to recovery is challenging, and the recovery homes can help in that process.
It took Hippensteel a year and a half to reach sobriety once he chose to go that path, he said. But he added that the long journey was productive and successful.
“So if you look at that pathway, yes, it might have taken a year and a half, but every time I learned something new that got me an inch closer to sobriety, is a success,” he said.