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BENNINGTON — The town submitted in August a $1 million grant application on behalf of two local housing projects for people in recovery from substance misuse. The recovery housing organizers expect the homes to begin operating sometime next year, once the properties are bought and renovated.

A house located at 612 Gage St. will be designated for up to eight men, according to the organizers. Another at 185 North St., called Squire House, will accommodate up to nine women.

The homes aim to provide medium-term support and services to their residents — a transition area between treatment facilities and living on one’s own. The homes will have a substance-free policy, as well as a grievance process for residents and neighbors. And each will have a house manager to help supervise residents.

The Turning Point Center of Bennington will manage the men’s programming. The women’s will be jointly run by Mission City Church and the Vermont Foundation of Recovery, which manages other recovery homes in the state.

Recovery programming at the men’s home is foreseen to take three months to a year; at the women’s home, 8-14 months.

Properties downtown were specifically sought, so residents will be close to service providers, such as the hospital, recovery center and fitness centers. This location will be crucial to residents who don’t have vehicles.

There currently is no recovery housing in Bennington. Advocates say the nearest are in Rutland and Springfield, at least an hour away.

The project organizers and their partners presented such details at a Bennington Select Board meeting in June, where the board greenlighted the town’s application for the Vermont Community Development Program grant on behalf of the housing developer. $500,000 has been budgeted for each property.

The project proponents also answered questions from the Select Board and community members. But they say questions remain, and two key representatives spoke with the Banner to address them: Ralph Bennett, a recovery coach at the Turning Point Center of Bennington, and John Rogers, former executive pastor of Mission City Church in Bennington.

Why does Bennington need recovery housing?

Among the 50 states, Vermont has the fourth-highest rate of alcohol dependency and the highest rate of illicit drug use, Rogers said, citing a study done a few years ago by the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs.

“It’s evidence based,” Bennett added. “Recovery residences work. People are successful when they go through these places, and they take the time to breathe before they jump back into whatever they left before rehab.”

Why won’t the homes be locked down?

Recovery residences are like any other home, where occupants are free to come and go, the men said. A recovery home’s distinguishing factor, they said, is that residents live with others who have the same goals: to be in a safe, substance-free, supportive place while they’re working toward sobriety and getting back on their feet.

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But the homes apparently will also have mechanisms to hold residents accountable, such as random urine testing for substances. “That gives us just enough to give them the freedom to really work on their issues, on their skills. At the same time, we do have some control,” Rogers said.

“There’s no bars on the windows; they can leave anytime,” he said. “But if they really wanna be healthy, it’s a partnership.”

Why will the housing programs last up to a year?

Recovery from substance misuse takes time, Rogers said. People who undergo a 28-day treatment program, for instance, come out sober but haven’t developed the skills or the support group to remain so, he said. And many just return to the same group of people that surrounded them during the time they were using substances.

“It also just gives you time — time to get right with God, yourself and others,” Rogers said, adding that the process enables a person to heal not just physically but mentally and spiritually.

Will the homes be offering treatment or clinical services?

Bennett said the homes won’t be offering these services, but will put residents in touch with organizations that do, such as United Counseling Service and the local Turning Point recovery center.

Why are the residents getting free room and board?

The residents will be paying a weekly fee, which is part of their “membership agreement” in the home, Bennett said. He emphasized that this isn’t a landlord-tenant relationship, because residents who break the house rules will need to leave.

Residents also will be required to either work or do volunteer work, if they don’t need the income, Rogers said. “That’s all part of the recovery,” he said, “being able to get up in the morning and go to work, show up every day and do your job and get a good review.”

The housing fee, the men clarified, will be lower than market rate so as not to exclude people who are struggling financially. To be sustainable, the homes will be holding fundraisers and applying for state and federal funding, which they said won’t be coming from taxpayer dollars.

Why is the faith community among the leaders of this effort?

Rogers said his church’s recovery housing work emulates the example of Jesus Christ, who ministered to those who were struggling, disenfranchised and needed help or healing.

“How could the church not be at the table?” he said. “We’re really trying to meet people where they’re at … get out of the building, get on the street.”

Contact Tiffany Tan at @tiffgtan both on Facebook and Twitter.


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