A Place to Stay Clean and Sober
Elm House will offer women in recovery a temporary home.
Thursday, October 5, 2006
There aren’t a lot of affordable housing options for single women in Monterey County who are recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.
Seven Suns in Salinas provides such housing for single men, and Marina’s Pueblo del Mar houses families who are in recovery from substance abuse. But for a single woman, options are limited. Maybe she will find an affordable room to rent through a sponsor, or maybe a forgiving parent or sibling will give her a second chance. Or maybe not.
Beginning in January, six women in recovery will have a safe, sober place to live while they work on rebuilding their lives. It’s near public transportation, banks and food markets. Elm House, located on Elm Avenue in Seaside, with its six bedrooms, isn’t going to fill the county’s need for affordable transitional housing. But it’s a start.
“Single women have no place to go,” says Robin McCrae, executive director of Community Human Services, a nonprofit dealing with substance abuse, mental health and homelessness in Monterey County. CHS’s projects include Genesis House, also in Seaside, which offers residential drug treatment. CHS will also oversee Elm House once its doors open on Jan. 1.
“We started working on this project a couple of years ago because counselors at Genesis House said we need a place like this for single women,” McCrae says.
Of Genesis House’s 50 or 60 graduates per year, McCrae says, 25 or 30 are women. About half of those women are single, and prospective Elm House tenants. Various other organizations in Monterey County also serve women who could use this kind of environment, she says. “There are women in similar situations from Door to Hope and Beacon House, as well as out-patient programs,” she says. “It isn’t rocket science. The need is huge.”
“When you walk in the house, this will be the living room,” McCrae says, pointing through a dusty window.
I’m standing in front of the Elm House with McCrae and other women who are raising money for the project. The rehabilitation of the property will cost around $600,000. A grant from the state will cover more than $450,000, but CHS must come up with almost $140,000. CHS’s effort will be joined by a fundraising group, the Circle of Women, most of whose members have some personal connection to recovery. They started fundraising in late August. An anonymous donor gave $10,000. And a direct mail campaign, which began in late September, brought in $2,855 in its first week. They are selling commemorative bricks for $100 each that will be installed in the courtyard’s “Serenity Garden,” and room sponsorships for $1,000 to $5,000. They are also looking for in-kind donations to furnish and landscape the house.
The outside walls are intact, but the inside has been gutted, and will be converted from its former use as administrative offices for CHS. The house will have six bedrooms, two baths, a large kitchen and dining room, a big, communal living room and laundry facilities. A porch swing will hang in the front of the house, and the Serenity Garden will create a quiet place to sit and smoke out back.
During their 18 to 24 month stay, Elm House’s six tenants will receive counseling, case management, relapse prevention and other services to maintain their recovery and help them transition back into the community. It’s close to Genesis House and its after-care program for recovering addicts.
Catherine Wilson says that a place like Elm House would have been a perfect fit for her six years ago, when she graduated from Genesis House. Now she works there as a counselor.
“After 28 years of just using and abusing, life had changed dramatically—and so had the housing market,” she recalls. Wilson says she rented a room for four months, “while I got used to this thing called being clean and sober.
“It’s challenging. Not only are you clean and sober, but you also have no credibility.”
Studies show that not many alcoholics remain sober one year after treatment. Wilson says the number is only one in 10. “But the longer one’s in residential drug and alcohol treatment, statistically it increases one’s chances of staying sober.
“The women who live in Elm House will be able to share stories—and help each other learn to be accountable. Suiting up and showing up. Keeping your word to one another.”
Helga Ralston, also a former client and current employee at Genesis House, didn’t have custody of her kids when she completed treatment. “I worked, went to school, and eventually got my kids back, but it took about a year for me to do it,” she says. “This would have been perfect for me. This will give women an increased foundation for recovery.”
Zoudensh Northam, who volunteers at CHS, says her sister is in recovery. “Knowing that women need help and supporting women is important,” Northam says.
Sara M., who co-chairs Circle of Women with Northam (and asked that her last name not be used) works as a stylist and says that several of her clients don’t know that she’s in recovery. She’s been sober for 11 years.
“I know how many women get out of the rehab facility and they are terrified,” she says. “They don’t know where to go and what to do to get back on their feet. I wish we were opening an apartment building, because it would get filled.”