More sober housing said needed in county

  • Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan speaks at the first sober housing summit hosted by the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, Friday, at the John Olver Transit Center. Joshua Solomon/Staff Photo

  • A host of speakers from across the state discuss issues at the first sober housing summit hosted by the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, Friday, at the John Olver Transit Center. Joshua Solomon/Staff Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2018 10:59:56 PM

GREENFIELD —  People recovering from addiction, especially those coming out of jail, find it doubly difficult to rent affordable apartments in Franklin County, according to local experts who Friday discussed the need for more sober housing in today’s opioid-stricken society.

“Some people will say relapse is the number one reason for reincarceration,” Franklin County Sheriff and Opioid Task Force Co-Chair Chris Donelan said. “I would say that’s not it. I would say the inability to get housing is first.” 

There’s a need to educate private landlords about how to best meet the needs of renters recovering from addiction, advocates and professionals said at the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region’s first-ever sober housing summit Friday morning. 

Some said they often see potential renters face discrimination based on their recovery and incarceration history, although that doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on whether they will be a good tenant. 

Coming out for the summit were dozens of advocates and health care providers, along with a strong panel of people most closely involved with the issues here and across the state. 

Donelan was flanked by a panel that included local, state and sober housing advocates and experts at the morning session at the John Olver Transit Center. 

Also on the panel was a member of the recovery community, Steven “Skip” Sommers.

“For a person that’s out there using, if they don’t got somewhere to live,” Sommer said, “they feel they have nothing. They feel they have nothing whatsoever. So they continue to use.”

He urged the creation of more support for housing for the recovery community, because homelessness can often lead back to jail, and sometimes can endanger a person’s Jlife. “I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still here,”  said Sommer.

Edward Chase, director of the Center for Community Recovery Innovation of MassHousing, said MassHousing has been working to award money for sober housing, but there’s only so much to go around. He said it still needs to be pursued. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming,” to build sober housing, “but it’s possible.” 

Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Sober Housing (MASH) Troy Clarkson explained his own path to recovery, before becoming the second director of MASH. He was kicked out of a sober house for drinking, ended up in his car, and eventually, in the woods.

MASH is working on pushing current sober house operators to become certified with his organization, which is a byproduct of state efforts to provide some regulation to a growing field. He said one issue people trying to go into the business of sober housing is receiving a loan from banks. 

It is difficult for the Greenfield Housing Authority to do more for people in recovery because in general it’s difficult to build more public housing. He also said he has spoken with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development to see if it’s possible to give housing preference to people in recovery, to get into a place like the Winslow Apartments on Main and Wells street or Oak Courts off Elm Street. He said DHCD said is “not interested” in that. 

Franklin County Sheriff’s Office re-entry case workers Jennifer Avery and Ruben Mercado told stories about the difficulties their clients often face. 

“Last week I was with a client looking for a place for him to pitch his tent,” Mercado said. “I end up working with slum landlords because there’s no other options.”

Avery said she sees people consistently face discrimination from the housing authorities and landlords in the area. 

“People are not only serving their time inside, but they’re serving their time outside,” Avery said.

“How do we support them?” 

Heather Bialecki-Canning, executive director of North Quabbin Community Coalition and a member of the Task Force, said there’s a significant amount of variation in who one landlord will rent to versus another, particularly for those in recovery.

She pushed for more education for landlords, which was well-received by the packed room of advocates and professionals, but also by the Task Force. 

Peggy Vezina, an employee of The RECOVER Project, said the difficult situation of finding affordable housing leads to people who “feel so lucky” to get housing from slumlords. 

“We need to stand up as private individuals, as well,” Vezina said. “This is not acceptable.”

Next week the Task Force’s housing subcommittee will meet and take up many of these proposed points forward. 

“We might not have all the answers, but at least it’s a solid step,” Mercado said. 

Shawn Hayden, leader of a supportive sober housing group based in Gardner called GAAMHA, is helping Greenfield resident Devon DeKorver open up the sober house on Cedar Street in the coming weeks. The sober house for women, which was partly funded through DeKorver’s Firebird 5K and helped to get off the ground through the efforts of DeKorver and Trish Leonard’s SAGE housing, is set to be the only one of its kind in Franklin County. 

Hayden noted that sometimes meetings of vested parties could lead to a lot of talk and not much action, but he, like many others Friday, said the feelings around this kind of meeting differed given who the Task Force brings to the table. 

DeKorver’s Greenfield sober house “came out of a meeting in this room,” Hayden said. “Kudos to the community who pushed for this to happen.”

City community development director MJ Adams said about the Cedar Street home, “This is a model we hope to use on other properties.” The city helped DeKorver and Hayden to buy the distressed and foreclosed property.


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