Featured Stories

Transition house could help recovering substance abusers

Empty residence may have a new use
General Editor
   A new use is being considered for the former Jefferson House, which, for a short time, was a county-run residence for mentally-ill individuals.
   For many months members of the faith community, agencies, and other concerned citizens have been meeting with the aim of establishing Jefferson County HOPE (Housing Opportunity for Personal Empowerment) -- a transitional house for people coming out of alcohol and drug treatment. It would be located in the same five-bedroom, two-story house on 11th Street that was Jefferson House, which closed last March.
   The new facility was the idea of Madras resident and jail ministries volunteer Rich Miller, who subsequently got a board together to pursue the plan. Attorney Mark Mathews is the board president, Jamasa Tello the secretary-treasurer, and attorney Dave Glenn has been helping the group file for nonprofit status and other legal work. The rest of the board is broad-based with representatives from parole and probation, jail ministries, COBRA, Best Care (alcohol and drug counseling), and other areas.
   Tello explained why the group feels a transitional house is needed. "Maybe the person coming out of treatment has domestic issues and they don't have a safe place to go to get their life back on track. They could be coming out of jail or prison, a recovery program, or a domestic violence situation," she said, noting it hasn't been decided if the house will be for men or women.
   "We want to offer a place where they can get their life back together," Tello said.
   As a successful recovering drug addict herself, Tello knows what she is talking about. Transitional housing is important because otherwise most people return to their old harmful environment, she noted. "There are a lot of people with drug and alcohol problems in Madras who have tried to get clean and sober unsuccessfully. When drugs and alcohol are constantly accessible, it's hard to say no. We hope to give them a different option," she said.
   "My husband and I attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and know people from the meetings who are struggling with a place to stay and are staying on someone's sofa, in someone's camp trailer or in cars," Tello pointed out.
   Jefferson County HOPE wouldn't be for all-comers, however. Residents would have to be referred by local agencies, could not be sex offenders or people with violent or abusive behavior. They would sign contracts agreeing to actively seek employment, and attend in-house workshops on topics such as food sanitation, nutrition, and anger management.
   Parole and probation or other agencies could do testing to make sure residents were not doing drugs or consuming alcohol again, and if they were, they would have to leave the facility.
   The board of directors and volunteers would provide support and refer residents to appropriate helping agencies.
   Residents would be encouraged to attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and to get involved in the community by doing volunteer work. Both in turn would help build their self-esteem.
   "This would not be a flop house, not a shelter. People would not sit on a couch watching TV all day. It would be a place where people are willing to do what they need to get back on their feet," Tello said.
   The average length of stay would be six months, but could be extended up to one year. That time would be spent seeking employment, and saving money to get out on their own.
   Ideally, there would be 24-hour staffing, with a facilitator to do the paperwork, bookkeeping and help residents compile job resumes, and apply for things like the Oregon Health Plan, and food stamps.
   To get going, the Jefferson County HOPE group is writing grants and appealing for local donations to raise $500 to obtain nonprofit status, and seed money for needed house repairs, insurance, and utility expenses. The county owns the house and has leased it to the group for $1 a year. Tello estimated it will cost $1,000 a month to run Jefferson County HOPE, not including the facilitator's salary.
   Anyone interested in donating, having a speaker address their group, or helping with Jefferson County HOPE may contact Tello at 475-1392 or Mathews at 475-3769.
   "We want this to be pretty much a self-run home with help to point people in the right direction," Tello observed.