Halfway house may get off the ground Health officials give preliminary approval

March 11, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

For six years, Richard E. Blevins has devoted much of his time and energy to establishing a halfway house in Carroll County for recovering addicts and alcoholics.

The obstacles along the way have been frequent and formidable -- mainly lack of money and finding an appropriate site.

But Mr. Blevins is daring to hope that his halfway house may finally get off the ground, now that state health officials have given preliminary approval to establishing the facility in a vacant building on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

"It's been a long while since I first dreamed of this in 1990," said Mr. Blevins, 60. "It's so desperately needed in Carroll County."

As coordinator of after-care services at Shoemaker House, the county's inpatient drug rehabilitation center, Mr. Blevins says he deals daily with the difficulty of placing patients after treatment.

Local homeless shelters are inappropriate, he said, because they don't address substance abuse issues, and the nearest after-care halfway houses are in Baltimore or Glen Burnie.

"A lot of our people refuse to go [to Baltimore halfway houses] because they can't deal with the changes in lifestyle," Mr. Blevins said. "You take somebody coming from a little place outside of Taneytown and put them in the middle of Baltimore City and they're lost."

Local health and law enforcement officials share Mr. Blevins' views.

"It will provide that last part in a continuum of care that is much needed in the county," said Jim Regan, director of substance abuse treatment at the Carroll County Detention Center.

Mr. Regan said he expects to refer inmates to the halfway house, once it's running.

"There's a need for it, a real need," Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns said of Mr. Blevins proposal. "It's tough finding halfway houses."

And as Mr. Blevins knows, it's tough to establish one.

Over the years, he's found some suitable sites for the halfway house but no money was available to pay for it.

In December 1994, he learned that he might be able to use a building at Springfield, Cottage No. 11.

Springfield administrators supported the plan and forwarded it in June to the state Office of Planning and Capital Improvement, the division of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that oversees use of department properties.

The proposal languished at the state level for a time, and state officials said it probably was misplaced.

However, last week, Barry Stabile, an administrator in the planning and capital improvement office, began the process that would allow Mr. Blevins to lease the Springfield site.

Barring objections from other state agencies that may have an interest in the building, Mr. Stabile said it's likely that the state Board of Public Works will approve the halfway house proposal. If so, Mr. Blevins may be able to occupy the building in three months.

As Mr. Blevins envisions it, the Friends in Recovery halfway house will provide a structured environment where people who have completed inpatient drug treatment programs can begin the transition back to the community. Initially, the halfway house will serve men only.

Residents will be required to work or look for a job, attend a minimum of five Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week, and participate in an outpatient substance abuse treatment program. Television will not be permitted until after 6 p.m. and residents will make their breakfast and lunch.

The maximum length of stay will be a year, but Mr. Blevins expects the average stay to be about six months. He plans to finance the halfway house through volunteer donations and a $65 weekly room and board charge to residents.

"It won't become a place you just go to and flop," Mr. Blevins said. "It'll be a working community."

The halfway house will serve a maximum of eight residents. Mr. Blevins expects that about half will have completed the substance abuse treatment program at the Carroll County Detention Center.

The jail began an intensive treatment program for inmates in December. Typically, between 65 percent and 80 percent of the 144 inmates at the detention center are incarcerated for crimes involving drugs or alcohol.

upon release from jail, inmates who have completed the drug treatment program enter the residential rehabilitation treatment program at Shoemaker House. Following After treatment there, a halfway house is the next step in the recovery process.

"It's cost-effective," Mr. Regan said, of halfway houses for recovering substance abusers. "For a small amount of money they can provide a person with a structured environment during the last stage of recovery."

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