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Safe and stable housing is a foundation of successful recovery 

By Taylor Sisk

The Daily Yonder

Amy Drum has a new grandbaby she’s eager to get home to see.

Drum, who lives in the town of Lincolnton, in North Carolina’s Piedmont region, had been free of heroin and methamphetamine for a good while before relapsing. It was pretty rough going for a time. She eventually got into treatment.

Since April, she’s found sustenance and support in this temporary home she shares with two other women, likewise in recovery – a little house in the country less than a half-hour from home but a world away from the previous tumult. 

These accommodations are provided by Integrated Care of Greater Hickory (ICGH), which promotes lifelong recovery for people with substance use disorder.

“Extremely quiet” is how Drum describes these past six weeks. After completing inpatient treatment, she wanted to get back home, but now recognizes she needed this respite. 

“Housing is the foundation,” Corey Richardson, ICGH’s CEO and clinical director, attests, the foundation for recovery. ICGH embraces the concept of truly integrated care. A safe and comfortable place to lay your head is where it begins.

In advancing its recovery-housing initiatives, ICGH has received support from the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes affordable-housing efforts throughout rural America. 

Almost everyone on staff at ICGH is in recovery from substance use disorder. Pictured here are Andrew Dodson, Shelby site manager, Rebecca Collins, executive director of housing, and Rick Warner, housing manager. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

“Being in rural communities, we’d hear from partners about the devastation of the overdose crisis,” said Natasha Moodie, a HAC research associate. “We continue to hear from partners that in the recovery process, access to safe and stable housing is a key determinant to how successful folks will be.”

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

As essential as counseling or a 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 taking hard drugs by 11. That trajectory led to prison. He’s been living in an ICGH Day One Recovery Homes townhouse for a year now. It’s given him the stability he needed to remain 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’ll let me stay as long as I need to,” said Nathan Prentice, who’s been living in a Day One Recovery home for a year. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

A decade ago, Richardson said, virtually all the housing that programs in the region offered to people in recovery was abstinence only, excluding those who were 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, he believes, is as essential as counseling or a prescription.

HAC’s loan fund provided ICGH with a half-million dollars to purchase properties for residential recovery homes. The fund extends low-interest loans to support single- and multifamily affordable-housing projects across rural America. Funding is available for a wide variety of purposes. Supporting recovery homes that offer medications for opioid use disorder is among its initiatives.

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

Almost everyone on ICGH’s staff is in recovery. Peer support is critical “to help do life, walk with these people day by day,” Collins said. “They’re scared, they feel shame, they feel stigma, and you just see the weight lift when all we have to say is, ‘We validate how you feel. We’ve been there.’”

If a resident should relapse, they’re not automatically evicted. It’s treated on a case-by-case basis.

What the community most needs

To further assist local organizations in addressing the shortage of housing for people in recovery, HAC created the Affordable Housing and Recovery Cohort. Richardson assists in this initiative by presenting best practices for starting successful recovery programs and offering continued partnership with cohort organizations as they develop their recovery-housing programs. 

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

Bridges to Recovery serves both Marinette County in Wisconsin and adjacent Menominee County in Michigan, a vast, rural region. As in 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’s CEO and clinical director. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

“If you interviewed somebody in this community that’s not in the social services realm, they probably wouldn’t even know we have people who are homeless,” said Meghan Rutherford, the organization’s project director.

There’s only one homeless shelter for both counties, with a capacity of four. People might couch surf or fashion some sort of minimal shelter. Sleeping in a tent through “horrendous winters,” Rutherford said, can be fatal.

Under one roof, Bridges to Recovery will be offering phased levels of accommodation, from communal living to one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“Our community is very thankful we’re here,” Rutherford said.

After playing professional basketball in Europe, then coaching, Marquetta Dickens returned home to eastern North Carolina and founded the 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 advancing its recovery-housing initiative in deliberate fashion. Dickens recognizes the benefits of moving people out of the environments in which they’ve struggled. 

“We’re really looking to build a community versus just random homes here and there,” she said. Finding potential options in this rural region is a chore, particularly given Freedom Org’s mission to preserve farmland. Much of the land in the area is in a floodplain, further limiting options.

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

Kathy Draughn (right), from a rural community an hour to the east of ICGH’s base in Hickory, had been homeless when she started taking Suboxone, then found a home with ICGH. Here, she said, she’s also found family, including Tonya Lawson, from Greensboro. (Photo by Taylor Sisk)

‘Glad that I came here first’

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

“At a young age, I got affiliated with the wrong people, right off the gate, and I got heavy into amphetamine use and opioid disorder.” 

He tried to get free of the drugs a number of times, “but it never clicked, because I tried to always go back to my hometown, thinking I could do it by myself.”

“It’s not until I came here and got a sponsor and got into the rooms of NA that I realized that this is a ‘we’ program. I can’t recover by myself. You’ve got to have a support system.” 

Back out at the house in the country that Amy Drum shares with two other women, the days are serene. Every so often, the lady who lives next door fills jars on the porch with flowers.

“My birthday was two weeks ago,” housemate Peyton Womack, of Lincolnton, said, “and I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t using or getting high on my birthday.” Drum made chicken alfredo. “We got cupcakes and stuff like that, and it felt good to actually have a sober birthday.” 

The day also marked seven months of being drug free, “so that was a really good 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 in our program that we see with severe disease got introduced to drugs early; they have histories of trauma,” Richardson said. They need time and resources to begin to navigate toward stability. Safe, comfortable housing, he believes, is foundational.

Amy Drum is ready to get 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 a problem.”

“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.

The post Safe and stable housing is a foundation of successful recovery  appeared first on North Carolina Health News.

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