Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Bruce Campbell, chairman of the board of directors for the Bangor Area Recovery Network, commonly referred to as the BARN, gives a tour of a new sober living home for women called Holyoke Haven.
BREWER, Maine — Robert Thompson started using opiates illegally when he was a teenager, he said. When he hit 30 and was in the middle of losing everything — his children, his job, his apartment — all doors seemed closed to him.
Then, one opened at the Oxford House Penobscot in Bangor, a drug- and alcohol-free, democratically run, self-supporting home for men in recovery with a zero-tolerance policy.
“That is where I advanced my recovery through work, and learned how to have healthy relationships with other men. We had to work together to have a functional house,” said Thompson, who had gone through Manna Ministries’ Derek House recovery program to get sober.
The need for a similar facility for women in the area is why Holyoke Haven, a new chartered Oxford House, is scheduled to open March 1 in Brewer.
“The biggest obstacle for people in recovery is finding safe, affordable housing,” said Bruce Campbell, chairman of Bangor Area Recovery Network’s board of directors. “[They need] a safe environment that is clean and sober.”
BARN will host an open house and reception for the new sober living home for women 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 10 Holyoke St. Refreshments will be served and the event is open to the public. Those who stop by can check out the renovated, single-family home, built in 1878, which has been converted into apartments.
The first Oxford House was established in 1975 in Silver Spring, Maryland. There are now 2,000 others across the county, including 12 in Maine. Oxford House Penobscot and Oxford House Bangor are two sober homes for men in Bangor. There also is one in Biddeford and the other nine are located in Portland, including six for women.
“If there is any drug or alcohol use, you’re gone immediately,” Campbell said of the Oxford House rules. “I think that is one of the reasons why it works.”
If a resident falls off the wagon, they must move out of the home, but they can reapply after 30 days of sobriety, he said. “Recovery is a process,” and sometimes it takes more than one attempt, Campbell said.
There are four basic rules. Each person has to work, go to school or volunteer at least 20 hours a week, they must pay rent and help with household chores, and maintain sobriety, Campbell said. Chores include mowing the grass, shoveling snow, cleaning bathrooms and doing the dishes.
Campbell described Holyoke Haven as a dry sorority house for women in recovery.
A group of local woman started talking about opening an Oxford House and “this place fell into our lap,” Campbell said of the home, which was foreclosed by a bank.
Bangor Area Recovery Network was able to purchase and renovate the building with $157,000 in donations from Next Generation, which supplied the original funding, and backing from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, Bangor Savings Bank Foundation and Penobscot Community Foundation.
“The purpose of this open house and reception is to thank the community for the incredible support we have received to make this dream a reality,” Jenn Morin, treasurer of BARN’s board of directors, said in a news release about the open house.
The green, corner-lot house with dark green trim and purple doors and shutters is one block from State Street and two blocks from BARN’s community recovery center at 142 Center St.
“Oxford House aligns well with the values and principles of recovery at the BARN — recovery is a process, there are many routes to recovery, recovery overcomes shame and stigma and recovery is a community responsibility,” Campbell said.
The house is also near grocery stores, a convenience store and a city bus stop. Campbell said the organization plans to add vinyl siding this summer, but “we just don’t know where the money is coming from yet.”
The large house has room for up to a dozen people, but the number of housemates will be determined by the people who live there, Campbell said, adding that the BARN’s only role is as landlord. Four women are scheduled to move in after March 1.
“If you had nine people here, rent and utilities would be about $117 a week,” he said.
While Holyoke Haven is designated as a sober house for women only, there is a good probability that some of the residents will have children who will be able to visit but not stay for long periods of time.
“I could have my kids on the weekend, but that was, again, with everyone else’s OK,” said Thompson, who moved out of the Oxford House Penobscot more than two years ago and recently celebrated five years of sobriety. He lived in the home for two six-month stretches in 2012 and 2014.
He said the sober house gave him more than just a roof over his head. It gave him a place to learn to be an adult and a parent, learn responsibility and to learn to like himself again, which he said is a key to finding happiness.
“We beat ourselves up as addicts. We have no self-esteem. We have been hearing how bad we are [for drinking and using drugs] for so long we believe it,” said Thompson, who is now working as an integration specialist for Wellspring Inc., a substance abuse and mental health service provider in Bangor. “It’s a whole process learning that we can give back and be a contributing member of society.”
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 22, 2016, at 5:12 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 22, 2016, at 6:41 p.m.