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Lori Criss

Associate Director, The Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services Providers

Options, not Opponents: Housing First and Recovery Housing

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There’s no denying that a number of factors outside of addictions treatment significantly impact a person’s long-term recovery. Chief among those is their environment, including their housing.

Even in the best of circumstances with a supportive family and safe home, making the transition from the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery is filled with pitfalls that threaten relapse.  For a person struggling with addiction while homeless or living with people who are using alcohol or drugs, achieving recovery can seem impossible.  Research indicates that the longer a person remains in a recovery environment, the greater the chance of long-term sobriety, increased financial wellbeing and overall stability.

People need the ability to choose the type of housing that matches their motivation and capacity.  Two major models of supportive housing are Housing First and Recovery Housing. The Housing First model affirms that communities should have affordable housing where people who are actively using can find residential stability and be motivated toward recovery at their own pace.  The Recovery Housing model calls for alcohol and drug free environments where people who are actively pursuing recovery can live with peers and connect to other recovery services and supports.

Traditionally, communities have been guilty of “either/or” thinking about the kind of housing that should be available to people with substance use disorders.  Housing First and Recovery Housing often clash with one another instead of working together.  This approach forces artificial competition, reduces choice and doesn’t benefit the very people we’re trying to help.

Providers have the responsibility to help people make educated choices when seeking housing.  Instead of approaching housing with an either/or mindset, providers can focus on building a recovery-focused, supportive housing environment.

There are nine hallmarks of recovery-focused supportive housing environments:

  • Housing is a choice, not a clinical placement.
  • Housing provides a physically and emotionally safe, secure and respectful environment.
  • Housing is low-barrier and accepts applicants with poor credit, eviction histories or criminal backgrounds. For Recovery Housing, sobriety requirements are not a barrier but are a feature that people in recovery are looking for to support their wellness.
  • Housing is located in the community, and residents are expected to connect with services, supports, employment and social activities.
  • Providers and residents value the voice and experience of peers.  Recovery Housing relies on the Social Model of Recovery.
  • Residents have a lease or occupancy agreement that outlines their rights and responsibilities.
  • Residents are accountable for how their behaviors impact their residential stability and the wellness of others in the housing.
  • Residents have personalized recovery plans.
  • Residential stability is a priority. If a resident is moving out by choice or force, every effort is made to connect them to safe housing and recovery supports.

In Ohio, stakeholders began to deliberately promote housing choice for people with substance use disorders in 2013.  Now, Recovery Housing has a definition in state law, a line item in the budget and is a required part of the recovery continuum in local communities.  We are incorporating housing choices in mainstream strategies at the state and local levels.  And similar work is happening across the U.S.

What’s your community doing?  Get involved in housing choice conversations right now.  Here are some great resources to get started.

As treatment providers, we help people create strong groundwork for their wellness.  Let’s prioritize recovery-focused housing as more than just a roof over a person’s head.  It’s the foundation for lifelong recovery.

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