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What exactly is ‘transitional housing?’ And why do we need it?

By KATHY MILES

Boyle County ASAP

In August, the Board of Adjustments of Planning and Zoning turned down a request from Seeing Hearts Ministry to rezone a property on Sycamore Street. The reason for the request was to enable Seeing Hearts to establish a re-entry transitional housing program for men leaving jail and prison. Neighbors of the property expressed many concerns, and the Board of Adjustments listened and respected those concerns.

The underlying issues related to this type of transitional housing could, and should, be better understood in our community. All indications are that Boyle County and surrounding counties will experience other similar requests in the near future. In fact, these kinds of programs have already been opened in counties joining Boyle.  

The term “transitional housing” applies to a range of programs that address the needs of people leaving domestic violence shelters, incarceration, psychiatric treatment and substance use disorder treatment.  It’s a generic term, which includes what used to be called, “halfway houses.” Today, solid research on what contributes to long-term recovery from substance use disorders points toward the need for strong community supports after residential treatment. This seems to be particularly true with opioid addiction. And research on those who reoffend compared to those who have no further contacts with the criminal justice system indicates that community supports make a big difference.

As a result of the opioid addiction crisis in our part of the country, we are seeing many who have substance use disorders and histories of incarceration. Boyle County Detention Center continues to house and discharge many of these folks. And, consistent with national statistics, a growing number of them also have mental health disorders. For each of these issues, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified safe and stable housing as a key community support for long-term recovery.

Re-entry programs are a type of transitional housing program for those coming out of jails and prisons. Although they differ in terms of funding, staffing and the backgrounds of those who live in the programs, they are most typically focused on easing the transition back into society for those who cannot return to a stable family living situation. Employment, job training and education are emphasized, and residents of these programs typically pay at least part, if not all, of the costs of living there. Some re-entry programs only take nonviolent offenders, and some choose to take those offenders. Because of the prevalence of substance use disorders in the incarcerated population, many re-entry programs include addiction recovery support for their residents.  

Sober-living programs are a type of transitional housing program for those who have been diagnosed with and treated for substance use disorders. Sober-living programs provide ongoing support and structure to people whose coping and life skills need further assistance. Many people in sober-living programs have families who have few resources left to share with them, or their family members are in active addiction themselves.

Sober-living programs may have requirements for work, drug screening, recovery group attendance, volunteer service, and/or curfews for residents, as well as abstinence from substance use. Neither re-entry nor sober-living programs are clinical treatment programs.

As communities like ours struggle to support recovery from addiction and the reintegration of those who have broken our laws, it behooves us to pay attention to what brings about the best outcomes. We have begun to do that with the Shepherd’s House intensive outpatient program.

Our goal must be to see people in recovery from addictions and people leaving incarceration filling our open employment positions, supporting their families, and helping others become part of the recovery community.  

We have to ponder where positive change can best occur, and still ensure that all members of our community are safe.  It is fair and appropriate to ask questions about community-based programs. It is fair and appropriate to ask that transitional housing be based on sound, researched principles. Unfortunately, it is not fair to ask for guarantees of 100-percent success rates in these programs.  A promise like that would be dishonest and reflect a lack of understanding of the research.

What we do understand is that we are running out of space in jails and prisons, and doing just what we have been doing without community supports doesn’t make sense economically or ethically.  We surely are going to have more of these tough decisions to make in the near future.

 

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.