Get A Life house
By Sharon McIntire The criminalization of substance abuse has filled our jails, but jails have done virtually nothing to alleviate the problem. Phil Huston made that observation several years ago. After mulling it over, he gathered some like-minded citizens, and explained the problem. “These people have never learned how to live normal,” he explained, “or they’ve had a significant disruption to their lives and they’re trying to figure out how to live again after they get deeply involved in substance abuse. They need very basic skills, they need boundaries, they need healthy mentoring and guidance in relationships because lots of time they have not had that –ever.”“It’s not that these are bad people,” he emphasized. “Really substance abuse is a symptom of other things. Nobody’s only problem is just that one day they thought it would be fun to use drugs or alcohol and they got out of control. People get caught up in things –they have trauma, they have mental health issues, they’re trying to deal with symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, all of those sorts of things. And they’re trying to find ways to numb the pain and deal with the symptoms of those other events or conditions. ”His audience was convinced, and in 2016 he became the executive director of Life House as it launched a sober living home for men. The results were positive, so they opened another home in 2018 for women –and another in 2019 for women and children. At each of these sober living facilities struggling clients are encouraged to get back on their feet by living in a “supportive but accountable” environment. Boosted with basic life skills as well as bible study and personal development, they are required to keep a job and a budget, and pay their own way. Results were gratifying, and the sober living program continued to expand. In January, Villa de Esperanza, Carlsbad’s inpatient rehabilitation center, and Golden Services, which offered counselling, closed. “We were going to lose the only accredited rehab center in our county, and really one of the better ones in this part of the state,” Huston stated. “And Golden Services did a lot of the children's counselling, and a lot of the substance use counselling. Those are already in short supply in Carlsbad –to lose that would be really bad.” The logical solution to that dilemma, of course, is to do it yourself. So they did. On April 1 Villa de Esperanza not only reopened at what was formerly the Land sun Health Services Center, but expanded client services from 16 to 25. Bringing the Golden Services counsellors onboard, the new center offers extensive outpatient counselling. “This is something people can participate in and get a significant amount of treatment without having to quit their job, or move out of their house, or something.” These residents live in a very structured environment, under constant supervision, with intense counselling and support. Not one to rest on its laurels, this ambitious board just launched their Avalon program, a 28-day residential treatment program for women with children. Without being separated from their children, mothers receive a high level of therapy with professional clinicians daily in a supportive, supervised environment in addition to other educational classes.
“What we were able to develop by bringing all this under our umbrella,” he continued, “is a good continuum of care so that someone can come in and move through different stages of treatment without having to change organizations, sometimes not having to change providers and case managers. We’re trying to really streamline all of that.” “Right now, we offer residential treatment, we offer sober living, we offer intensive outpatient treatment, and then we offer outpatient counselling,” Huston says. “The outpatient counselling we offer is not just for substance abuse. We have kids’ therapists at the Avalon building for kids that need therapy for family related things, mental health issues, anger management, those sorts of things. We can take people suffering from anxiety, depression, people who are having troubles with their marriage or work or whatever else –we offer those services. While the inpatient work is all substance abuse related, the outpatient has a broader cope, but could also include substance abuse. ”He feels the bigger problem lies outside the Life House jurisdiction. “The thing we have to worry about is that there’s a lot of people that are dealing with addiction that are not getting help. They drive a lot of the crime and a lot of the problems with CYFD and domestic violence and things. People don’t really need to worry about the ones that are getting help. “The people that are here want to be here,” he stresses. “They’re here to get help –they want to get help. ”There is still a gap to be filled, and Life House plans to fill it at the former Land sun facility. With room to grow, he says, “This building will allow us to expand our counselling, and our goal in probably the next 18 months would be to have a detox facility here, which would mean we would be able to take people who are actively using but want to get help and take them straight in, detox them, and then get them into our treatment program.” At present patients have to be sent to other cities to detox, and he feels that’s inefficient and less effective. “Long-term we’re trying to add the detox, and add more clinical staff to be able to see more people. We inherited about a 50-person waitlist per person for counseling; it wasn’t unusual for people to have to wait six months or more to see a counsellor. We’re trying to chip away at that. ”Not all of the people who seek help at Life House complete the program, and they aren’t forced to stay. But those who do feel anatt achment to the program and to the people who gave them their lives back. Many return to work or to volunteer at one of the facilities. While the accomplishments of Life House have been dramatically successful, its director still isn’t satisfied. The drug war, he feels, is not working. “Somebody gets mixed up in the wrong stuff because they’ve had a rough life, then they go to jail and jail does nothing to make them better. They get connected with more people that have similar experiences, that have criminal histories, they experience more trauma in jail...Then they get turned back out and hope they get better next time. There’s no reason to expect they would. It's just a revolving door. “So you have 200 people, you’re paying them $100 a day to stay there, and you’re not providing any service whatsoever the help them. There’s a real potential to take some of our programming to the jail and also to start case management so when they come out, they’re coming into something and not just going back into the environment that got them here in the first place. So we really need to rethink how we’re doing this.”
There have been setbacks and tragedies, but Huston is proud of the Life House program. “I’ve worked in the church since I was 16 and I saw lots of good things in the church. But I’ve never seen as much consistently significantly life-changing stuff happening as we have here. I see God changing people’s lives every day, and I love being a part of that.”