Officials argue for treatment and homeless housing in Butler County

Inadequate sober housing for recovering drug addicts and housing for the homeless have been identified as significant problems by several Butler County officials during budget hearings this month.

One part of the equation will be addressed by the mental health and addiction board next year with a $300,000 investment in recovery housing.

Scott Rasmus, executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board, said roughly 20 to 25 percent or county residents — up to 100,000 people — suffer from mental health or substance abuse issues. There are approximately 100 sober living beds in the county now.

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“Those folks conceivably need recovery housing,” he said.

He said the board plans to seek requests for proposals early next year to add more beds. The budget is $300,000, but he said until the proposals come in, he is uncertain how many beds that will buy.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said recovery housing would aid inmates released from the jail.

“They use as soon as they get in our parking lot,” Jones said. “Their moms or their brothers or their sisters are waiting in the parking lot so they can shoot up.”

Sojourner Recovery Services was the first to open recovery housing units in 2014 with 26 beds for women in Hamilton. The non-profit has 60 beds now, according to president and CEO Scott Gehring.

“It’s very important to us to maintain a full continuum of care,” Gehring said. “So we try to make sure when a patient comes through treatment, if they do not have a safe sober place to live post-treatment, then it kind of negates all the work that we did. Peer associations tend to be the largest influencer for relapse.”

He said if an addict is able to maintain sober living in connection to a treatment provider for 18 months, the chances of long-term sobriety increase by 80 percent.

Gehring said the rooms are free at first and patients can stay as long as they need, but “program fees” apply as the person gets back on their feet, is able to work and pay for their own place to live. There are “house rules” residents must follow, and building managers enforce the rules.

Recovery housing was a key cog in a program Commissioner Cindy Carpenter spearheaded several years ago to get pregnant moms clean. The program includes residential treatment, recovery housing, life skills training, help with getting a job from Job and Family Services and support system from Nurturing Every Step Together (NEST), among other services.

MORE: New Butler County program helps pregnant drug addicts

There are 14 moms in the program now, and Jordan McMullin, who was one of the initial four moms, said the recovery housing was critical.

“This means everything, absolutely everything,” McMullin said. “That has been one of my very, very top concerns, was that I’m going to lose my children forever because I can’t get financially stable enough to provide for them, to provide a stable house. If I have that, it will give me time to get a job and be able to maintain a stable life. It is just amazing.”

The Common Pleas Court judges also expressed concern about the lack of housing in general, especially for participants in the specialty dockets like the drug and mental health courts.

“If we had more housing available I think we can better grapple with the problems,” Presiding Judge Noah Powers said. “Because if I can get somebody in housing and have a place for them to stay and something to eat, then I can start working on their problems.”

MORE: Butler County, cities to see share of tentative opiate lawsuit settlement

Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News the issues with housing, a mental health crisis drop off center and drug addiction are global problems that require help from stakeholders in the county’s cities.

Dixon said any money the county would receive from its part in a large lawsuit against drug companies over the opioid epidemic can be put toward a solution. The county, Fairfield and Hamilton all joined the thousands of other communities that have sued the pharmaceutical industry.

“The problem is not just housing, it’s the opioid problem, the mental health problem, it’s just the segment of terrible things going on in society. One is tied to the other,” Dixon said. “So you’ve got to find a solution that can cover all those or most of those. I haven’t seen anybody come up with a total solution for that but hopefully with the opioid settlement, depending how much we get, maybe we can get a little more interesting cooperation from the total community.”

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