By Mark Powell
Turning a House Into a Home
It plays out over and over and over. A woman, desperate to overcome her addiction, is forced to endure a long wait before she can begin treatment. The situation is even worse for women who are homeless.
The problem stems from a time gap. When a person reaches a point where they’re willing to undergo treatment, many facilities require 30 days of sobriety before that treatment begins. But what happens to women with no place to stay during that wait?
Sandi Wagner is a licensed social worker who’s seen that scenario countless times. She recalls one woman’s situation. “She had lost custody of her kids and was ready to receive treatment. She was at a breaking point. But every place had a 30-90 day waiting period. The only place she could go was the streets.”
So in 2016, Wagner and Whitney Caudill began discussing ways to provide a helping hand, and in August 2018, Her Story opened its doors. It bridges the gap by providing 30 or more days of safe, stable housing to women waiting to get into treatment.
“We’re there for the woman who is homeless when she says, ‘I’m ready to receive treatment,” Wagner says.
In its first year of operation, 28 women have come through the program. They typically stay there 30 to 90 days, sometimes a little longer when necessary. Of those first 28, 21 went on to long-term treatment.
Her Story helps women maintain their sobriety within a safe, supervised environment. Social workers assist participants in finding treatment and getting benefits while also starting intensive outpatient (IOP) services and mental health services. The goal is to get participants admitted into a program that runs from six months to two years.
The facility has the capacity to house four women in a typical home-style environment. Family meals are served with participants doing the cooking and cleaning. A house manager (who is in long-term recovery herself and studying for a degree in psychology) stays overnight to keep things running smoothly.
The stay is structured. For many participants, it’s the first structure they’ve had in a long time. Activities are designed to give residents a purpose while also keeping them from getting bored. Three days a week, the women attend IOP services, and six days a week,, they attend NA, AA, or Celebrate Recovery meetings. Women can exercise at the YMCA, read, or volunteer in structured settings. Each is encouraged to get a sponsor who visits at the house. There’s also grocery shopping, meal prepping, and cleanup to keep everyone busy.
There’s no charge to stay at Her Story. Staffers are aware that women living there have often suffered horrific ordeals. “Every woman has been significantly abused or faced neglect,” Wagner explains. “We aren’t just starting with a woman who is age 32; we may really be working with that 14-year-old girl who was abused in her past. We want to address trauma as well as addiction, because you can’t address one without the other.”
And what about those seven women of the first 28 participants who weren’t successful, who didn’t make it through the first weeks of detox?
“The door is open for them to come back,” Wagner says. “We encourage them to call us.”
Thanks to Her Story, word of that encouragement is now spreading through Xenia.
Her Story was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.