LIMA — Recovering from trauma has no single treatment plan.
“It’s so individualized. It’s so hard to define, but the fundamental belief system for most cases, you need to change place,” said Tammie Colon, executive director of Mental Health Recovery and Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties. “Their wound is too open to put them in a poisonous environment.”
So where does one go?
The question is simple. But the answer can be as complicated as the trauma itself, and it often depends on who is providing the response.
For many looking to re-enter society after trauma, halfway homes provide a safe and often affordable place as they work their way into independence. The stigma surrounding such places often cloaks what they do, who they help and the systems in place to ensure those who need help can find it.
Finding a place
The morning sun lights up the kitchen in the Restoration House home where Bobbie Nevarez sits. The 77-year-old woman has worked in the house for more than a decade, helping the nonprofit that owns it expand.
Since its initial founding in 2008, Restoration House has transformed into a set of five homes centered in Lima that serve a population in need of a safe place, Nevarez said. She earned a Jefferson Award and headed to Washington, D.C., in 2017 for her work at the organization.
“My greatest pleasure is going through a grocery store and hearing, ‘Hey, Ms. Bobbie!’ from someone who stayed here, and he wants to tell me how his life has improved, how he’s sober and has a wife and family,” Nevarez said. “That’s payday.”
Those who live at Restoration House are often referred there from a number of different agencies. From re-entry programs to addiction, no two residents or their stories are exactly alike.
For Margaret Moore, the house manager of the women’s house, she sought help at Coleman Professional Services after receiving threatening messages. When she began talking to one of the social workers at the agency, they told her “if you don’t go home with me, you’re going to end up in a pine box.” From there, she was referred to Restoration House.
“It’s peaceful. Safe. Having friends where you live, it’s great,” said Moore, who goes by the name Marge. “I just feel content here. My life has changed for the better.”
‘It’s a good place’
A few blocks across town, John Stemen, 63, helps manage one of the Restoration House’s men’s homes when he’s off work. During the day, he helps with odd jobs with a local property manager, but at night, he makes sure residents get their chores done while the normal house manager heals up from a foot injury.
Stemen found himself at Restoration House after serving a decade-long prison sentence. He has since spent a year at the house, and he’s looking to someday re-establish his independence after serving his time in prison.
“It’s got its good days and some bad days. We all get along with each other, and it’s a good place,” Stemen said.
Stemen currently lives in a “cubby” in the basement alongside two other beds in a home on Collett Street. The place operates largely on donations, and many of the men there — the few without regular day jobs — stood on the front porch Thursday morning smoking cigarettes as Stemen ran through his work at the house inside.
A registered sex offender, Stemen said he appreciates how the men support each other the house, and he supports its mission. When he’s not working, he’ll help others at the house figure out the rules put in place to keep them in check. When he gets the chance, he’ll find time to watch some of his favorite shows (about yetis) on the decade-old big screen in the main room.
Restoration House, however, is far from the only option in town. Ohio has established a number of programs to funnel and refer those in need of help. Whether it be making space for those navigating re-entry after a sentence, addicted individuals or residents with mental health issues, halfway houses run the gamut.
For an outsider looking in, the system and the regulations governing them can be complex.
Through the courts
Judge Jeffrey Reed, who often refers individuals through Allen County’s drug court, has a number of options to consider and factors to weigh when someone comes to his courtroom. Sometimes, he sends such individuals to a halfway home.
“We have all these factors we look at with any sentencing. It’s a mixture of safety of the community, the needs of the community, the needs of the offender, taking into consideration if there is a victim. All of these enter into our consideration,” Reed said.
One such factor is an offender’s risk assessment score provided by the state of Ohio. Known as ORAS, the Ohio Risk Assessment Scale is a system providing a numerical value to every offender. It helps judges better decide the sort of restrictions necessary for someone leaving prison.
For example, individuals with a higher score may be sent to the WORTH Center, a locked facility with security, Reed said. As the score lowers, more options and their associated recovery programs become available.
Going down the line in order of more restrictive to less restrictive, the Alvis House — a nondescript brick building located on Lima’s South Main Street — would be the next option, Reed said.
“That is the more traditional kind of a halfway house. That’s a good facility, too. We don’t use that so much. They do, however, house a lot of individuals for re-entry from a prison setting,” Reed said.
Next is the Mary Alice House, where individuals are still monitored and curfews are in place, but individuals have more freedoms as they re-integrate.
Restoration House and some homes operated by Lima UMADAOP would be on the lowest tier of restriction, Reed said. Referred to as sober living, supportive housing or recovery housing depending on how residents find themselves there, such homes tend to be older properties located in neighborhoods throughout Lima.
While such organizations often provide a safe place for those trying to normalize their lives, there are some difficulties in providing such safety. Relapses do happen, and although rules are in place to keep individuals on the right track, residents are often working through difficult personal issues to find independence.
“Some come, and they’re not done,” Nevarez said. “Relapse is a part of recovery. Some get up, they try and fail and then get up again.”
Reed said he’s seen individuals come into his courtroom worried about heading into such agencies because a past roommate may have relapsed or even stolen property. But that sort of track record often comes with the territory as individuals work toward better lives.
“The whole idea of treatment and criminal justice treatment, it’s about getting them sober and clean, but it’s also about accountability. In these group home situations, they’re holding each accountable,” Reed said.
“When someone comes in, they have to get acclimated to the environment. They’ll have to go through some struggles,” Marcell King, Lima UMADAOP’s Chief Operating Officer said. “It’s all new to them. For someone who has been addicted six months to a year, it’s their lifestyle. You have to work through it with them.”
Because of the complex nature of halfway house systems, state regulation is often just as complex, and tracking who runs a “good” house and who runs a “bad” house is far from simple. For example, places such as the Alvis House are audited from time to time due to their role with Ohio’s Department of Corrections, but other facilities have financial incentives to ensure that individuals stay in the system, Colon said.
Reed said he looks to the county’s probation officers to check up on individuals to ensure that treatment is being followed, and that individuals are moving through the plans put in place. Between the many players in the court system, probation officers will actively form relationships between such agencies, and they rely upon those working relationships to track when an individual may not be following a recovery plan, such as failing to attend AA meetings. If problems were found, he’d stop referring individuals to such places.
The state of Ohio has also started to take a more active approach. Regulations for places looking to categorize as “Recovery Homes” have been set in place just this past year. Russ Thomas, former head of Family Promise, has stepped down at the homeless shelter to start taking steps to work with facilities that use state dollars to bring them up to the new guidelines before the deadline determining their use goes into play in July 2020.
Nevarez said Restoration House is one such entity working with Thomas, and the nonprofit is looking to expand the types of programs it has for its residents.
“Our goal is to not only in partnering with them in passing state certification so we can keep our current beds available, but to possibly expand services in the future,” Thomas said in an email.
Regulations set in place by the state include setting the standard for the amount of space each individual is able to use, as well as the legal and business qualifications necessary to prove state dollars are used correctly.
The state’s involvement in how public dollars are used also tends to push such institutions under the halfway home umbrella to shift around each bed’s classification, further complicating the issue. For example, tightening “recovery home” regulations has resulted in Lima UMADAOP reclassifying its services and thereby changing how the organization gets public dollars, Colon said.
Such regulation has also pushed some organizations, usually faith-based institutions, to opt out of using public dollars completely to avoid allowing the state to dictate treatment options.
“If you’re going to use local tax dollars, community dollars, state dollars or federal dollars, we owe it to the public to makes sure that we’re investing them in the appropriate venue that treats people well,” Colon said. “If someone chooses to go into a program that may be operated by a church, that’s the client’s choice, and that’s fine.”
Either way, such facilities find themselves with an often difficult task — getting individuals with troubled histories back onto the right track.
“For the general public, we get a lot of resistance when we try to bring one into a neighborhood,” Colon said. “In their minds, they say they don’t want those folks in our neighborhood. The truth is these people are in the neighborhood anyway.”
“Not everybody gets along,” Nevarez said.“That’s when the other side of Ms. Bobbie shows up.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.