Over 20 million Americans identify as in recovery. Yet only 10% of adults who need treatment for substance use actually get services. Substance Use Disorder is a chronic, relapsing brain disease, and recovery takes more than just good intentions or strong willpower. -NavigatingRecovery.org
It was a sunny and windy winter day when I pulled off the I-93 north expressway from Boston to meet up with Natanya Champney, DCI’s HR Manager.
We were heading to Laconia, a former milltown in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for Compass House, a beautifully remodelled group home for women in recovery.
DCI was invited to attend because we built and installed all the furniture for Compass House in our zero waste Lisbon, NH factory.
This unique program provides a congregate living environment for women who have completed a residential treatment program for substance use disorder. And it gives priority to recently incarcerated people.
Natanya explained to me on the way that the Compass House project holds special meaning for DCI as a company, because DCI has recently joined the Governor’s Recovery Friendly Workplace (RFW) Initiative.
What is RFW?
In short, the RFW initiative promotes individual wellness for Granite Staters by empowering workplaces like DCI to provide support for people recovering from substance use disorder.
As we’ve seen, RFW helps companies like ours create a workplace culture that counters the stigma, shame, and fear that people struggling with substance use disorders often experience.
Substance Use Disorder In New Hampshire
Like a lot of rural American communities and former mill towns that have lost their manufacturing base, Laconia struggles with substance use disorders.
The opioid epidemic in particular.
According to a 2017 report from the CDC, the granite state ranked No. 2 in the nation for the number of opioid-related deaths relative to its population. It ranks No. 1 for fentanyl-related deaths per capita.
And despite the ubiquitous nature of the opioid epidemic and its prolific media coverage, safe spaces like Compass House are rarer than you might think.
Responding To Systemic Discrimination
But the scarcity of supportive housing for women in recovery is not surprising to Jacqui Abikoff, the executive director of Horizons Counseling Center in Laconia, NH. Abikoff is one of the key stakeholders who helped Compass House come to life.
During the ribbon cutting, she spoke to a core issue driving the creation of Compass House when she said:
What we know is that people with substance use disorder are still discriminated against when it comes to a lot of things, and housing is one of them. But you know who’s even more discriminated against? People with substance use disorders coming out of jails and prisons.
That’s something that makes Compass House unique. It doesn’t just serve women in recovery, but women who are also transitioning out of jails and prison.
Traditionally, this population has suffered from systemic discrimination, especially when it comes to housing. That’s concerning, given the research pointing to the critical role of safe housing in the recovery process.
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that women who receive post-treatment care and support—read stable housing—are less likely to use again. This is true for both men and women, but more so for women.
It’s also unfortunate because, according to the Legal Action Center,
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes discrimination in housing and real estate transactions illegal when it is based on a disability. The FHA protects people with past and current alcohol addiction and past drug addiction—although other Federal laws sometimes limit their rights. -US Dept of Health and Human Services
Even though it’s illegal to discriminate against people in recovery, it still happens.
Connect the dots, and you can appreciate why a refuge like Compass House is so important.
Partnership Opens New Horizons for Recovery
Compass House is the fruit of a partnership between Lakes Region Community Developers (LRCD), Horizons Counseling Center, and Navigating Recovery of the Lakes Region.
Although the seed of the project germinated for years in Abikoff’s imagination, it took the collaborative competency of these three organizations to provide the fertile soil for Compass House to take route and sprout.
In terms of their roles in the project, LRCD renovated the building, its previous headquarters. And now Horizons operates Compass House with support from Navigating Recovery.
Serving 600 plus clients a year, Horizons Counseling Center provides treatment for substance use disorders.
Navigating Recovery is a grassroots organization creating a supportive and recovery informed community for those affected by substance use disorder.
At the ribbon cutting, Dr. Daisy Pierce, executive director of Navigating Recovery, highlighted the unique spirit of community collaboration that made the project possible:
Anyone who has heard me speak knows my favorite part about working in the Lakes Region is the community collaboration that happens here. It is more impressive than other places in the state.
Building A Refuge for Recovery
Compass House, a two-story, 2,900-square-foot house built in 1904, accommodates eight women. It provides a collective living environment for women who have completed a residential treatment program for substance use disorder.
Creating supportive housing is a new venture for LRCD, which historically focused on building rental stock for low-income families and affordable starter homes.
LRCD executive director Carmen Lorentz put it this way, “We decided to target women first because they are more vulnerable when they come out into the community and don’t have a safe place to live.”
Recovery Answers, a website devoted to these issues, expands on the unique challenges faced by women with substance use disorders:
The shame, blame, and guilt attached to addiction can be stronger for women, especially mothers. Women report higher levels of stigma than men, and stigma is a known barrier to treatment seeking…Women are more likely to experience economic barriers to treatment. Pay gaps, lower wages, less income, or the higher likelihood of women living in poverty prior to substance use disorder onset, can limit the financial resources available to seek services and treatment.
To qualify for a spot at Compass House, residents must have a household income below 80% of the area median income.
Once they’re accepted, each guest at Compass House works with a trained recovery coach from Navigating Recovery. The guest works with her coach to create, follow, and update a recovery wellness plan that serves as a tailored roadmap as she moves toward independent living.
Referring to the efficacy of this kind of program, Dr. Daisy Pierce, from Navigating Recovery, says that:
“When a person in recovery lives in a supportive environment like Compass House, she is much more likely to stay in recovery.”
Finding Solid Ground
When Natanya and I left Compass House, the sun was blazing, and it was still packed with local and state legislators, reporters, business leaders, supporters, and citizens.
Given the wholehearted response from the Laconia community and beyond, it was clear that Compass House was off to a solid start.
And walking away, I couldn’t help feeling that Compass House had already given back, in some measure, what it had received.
For DCI, it was an honor and a privilege to partner with the folks who made Compass House possible. If you’d like to learn more, please visit the links below.