“People. Places. Things.”
Lori Criss, Associate Director of the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services Providers, explains why this phrase carries so much meaning in the recovery community. “Who we spend our time with, where we go, and the things we surround ourselves with all impact who we are and the decisions that we make. Many times, people in early recovery have to give up everything they’ve known… because those people, places, and things put them at risk for relapse or continued use. Early recovery can be painful and isolating. Recovery housing can fill that void with a safe place, compassionate people, and a life full of purpose and fun that doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs.”
Relapse can be common among people treated for substance use disorders. These high rates of relapse highlight the need for finding new ways to approach substance use treatment. This is where peer-run, recovery-oriented housing can fill a service gap. These homes offer safe, alcohol- and drug-free environments that afford people in recovery “with the opportunity to continually surround themselves with other people who are pursuing the same goal of recovery and wellness. It’s a place where people fit in, have common experiences and goals, and can be authentic without having to explain their addiction or recovery needs,” says Criss.
For people who are newly sober, recovery housing can provide time and support as they learn how to sustain long-term recovery. In fact, the recovery residence model is gaining momentum nationwide. In 2012, the National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) published A Primer on Recovery Residences: FAQs — 2012 (PDF | 262 KB), a document developed in collaboration with leading researchers in the field of recovery housing. It defines recovery housing, answers frequently asked questions about recovery residences, and highlights outcome studies for this growing movement.
Recovery homes are increasingly viewed as a viable and cost-effective alternative to established recovery-oriented systems of care. These homes are a good alternative because they provide safe and healthy environments that support residents in their recovery. These communities empower people by providing support as they transition towards living independent and productive lives in their respective communities. Recovery homes offer a unique alternative to harm reduction—a component of the Housing First model—for individuals whose main goal is to find a sober living environment.
Expanding the Recovery Home Model
The state of Ohio is interested in developing policy that would expand the recovery home model statewide. “Safe and affordable housing is essential for all people.” Criss continues, “For a person disabled by the disease of addiction, residential stability is a critical part of recovery. Research indicates that the longer a person remains in an alcohol- and drug-free environment with support for recovery, the greater the chance of long-term sobriety, increased financial well-being, and overall stability.”
Although many Ohio communities offer affordable housing options and addiction treatment services, rarely are these services coordinated in a meaningful way for someone in recovery. This lack of coordination leads many people in early recovery to return to environments that foster addictive lifestyles, increasing the likelihood of relapse or continued substance use. Criss says increasing “the availability of recovery housing ensures that Ohio’s system of care is responsive to various needs at different points in the recovery process.”
“Currently in Ohio, low-income persons primarily or solely disabled by substance use disorders have limited opportunities to secure safe, affordable housing that is anchored by a focus on treatment and recovery.” Because these individuals are not considered disabled by the Social Security Administration, they are not eligible for financial benefits such as Medicaid, vocational rehabilitation services, or project-based Section 8 for disabled people. “The need to broaden access to these programs is especially urgent in the context of the economic recession, with many non-Medicaid resources being cut at the state and local level.” Criss continues, “Unless a person with a primary substance use disorder also has a severe and persistent psychiatric disorder or disabling physical health condition, he or she will likely lack resources to pay for housing and treatment, creating significant barriers to recovery.”
For these reasons, Criss and her colleagues are advocating for private-public partnerships that can help establish more recovery homes. Once established, these homes will provide housing and services to people experiencing poverty with substance use disorders. “A responsive system will provide access to affordable, mainstream housing where people can be safely housed and supported in recovery at their own pace,” says Criss. The strength of recovery-focused housing is its ability to provide ongoing peer support while promoting sobriety in a natural home environment.
“It’s what home should feel like.”
Learn about Housing First at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Learn how Recovery to Practice helps health care professionals improve delivery of recovery-oriented services.
Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.