MANCHESTER, NH – There are some things that can’t be rushed, on the road to expanding the scope of recovery services here in New Hampshire.
However, with the right mix of determination and effort, it’s now possible to receive recovery services on the road.
Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, the state’s only recovery community organization, is ready to roll out its new transport van, purchased for $1 from AutoFair, one of its supporting community partners.
The van will be used to remove a major barrier that exists in helping those struggling with addiction and who are trying to change direction.
“There are many barriers, but transportation is a significant one,” says Dana Lemire, who manages operations for the recovery center.
He says the van will be used to help those currently connected to the center move between halfway houses and the center, get to group meetings, and keep appointments.
And once HOPE moves into its new home, inside the former Hoitt’s Furniture building on Wilson Street, the van will also help transport those staying at Amber’s Place to the community center.
Which brings the conversation back around to those things that can’t be rushed.
“We originally hoped we’d be in there by now, but it looks like June or July,” says Lemire.
Although construction efforts have been lagging, momentum hasn’t slowed for the little recovery community center that could.
In addition to the van, a GoFundMe site was started to help Amber’s Place operate as an emergency non-clinical “stabilization center,” allowing those stuck in the limbo between addiction and treatment to have a safe place to stay.
It was the brainchild of Kriss Blevens and her husband, Mark.
Kriss Blevens, owner of Kriss Cosmetics, has partnered with HOPE and plans to take over the building at 140 Central Street, once HOPE moves on. It was divinely inspired and founded on a wing and a prayer, says Blevens, in tribute to her step-daughter, Amber, who died of a heroin overdose before she was able to find her own safe haven, or escape hatch.
Amber’s Place will primarily serve those who enter via hospital emergency room referrals after overdosing, says HOPE Board of Directors Chair Melissa Crews.
It’s another way HOPE has cultivated community connections, thanks to outreach under the guidance of Holly Cekala, Director of Support Services for Hope for NH. Hospital emergency room staff now know to call the HOPE recovery coach hotline whenever someone arrives with a drug overdose.
“They will arrive here after being medically cleared and actively working to begin their recovery journey,” says Crews. “Communities truly do not understand the gaps that exist until they open the doors to a community center and start to help people.”
Already, it’s making a difference — beyond the 2,300 people who came through the doors of HOPE in January.
After receiving the final blessing from city fire department and code enforcement, and making sure all 16 cots were warm and welcoming, Blevens, got the call, and filled the first cot.
The next hurdle, almost cleared, is providing 24/7 support at the community center.
“We’re now open on weekends for groups, and working toward having three shifts of recovery coaches, for around-the-clock coverage,” Lemire says.
HOPE has also gone from being manned by a volunteer army to having a paid staff. But building an infrastructure of support around the state has been HOPE’s major preoccupation.
Under Cekala’s direction, HOPE’s growing fleet of trained recovery coaches have also been working intensively with communities outside of Manchester, including Berlin, Concord, Newport, Claremont and Plymouth, to help launch affiliated community centers.
“What works in one community might look much different in another community. What we’re doing is trying to deliver a platform of consistency,” Lemire says.
That includes a partnership with FACE IT Together, a comprehensive data driven outreach based in South Dakota that helps recovery communities track everything from internal information to demographics and outcomes – the kind of information that brings consistency into the mix and provides the sort of data points required by lawmakers and politicians, who need to justify spending.
“Having infrastructure is big, but we can’t wait for public funding or government approval. People are dying on the streets, every day,” Lemire says.
Which is why it’s significant that, in less than a year, HOPE has found a way to become a force for recovery in Manchester, all while also setting up a system that can be easily replicated.
Rolling out the purple recovery bandwagon signals an important phase, says Crews. It means that, finally, the city is bridging gaps that have made Manchester the epicenter of drug overdoses and placed New Hampshire near the bottom of the heap of U.S. States when it comes to providing adequate recovery services.
“We are thrilled to begin this phase of addressing the service gaps in Manchester. When we opened the center doors that very first day, solving this gap went right up on our whiteboard, as well as having a safe place to ‘stash’ people the minute they reached out for help. We recognized the need for a place to hold them until we could find services to connect them to,” says Cekala.
From here, there is only one direction: Forward, with a focus on expanding and growing services, and eliminating gaps, says Crews.
On Monday, Crews, was finalizing the paperwork for the transport van. Her husband, Andy Crews, is CEO of Autofair.
The custom paint job is done up in the group’s signature shade of purple, associated with the recovery movement, and includes their butterfly logo, a symbol of lives transformed through recovery. Crews says the van has inspired the tagline, “If you can’t find hope, HOPE can find you.”
They know they have a long way to go. But on days like today, it’s also important to take it all in, and celebrate progress.
“This state will not be next-to-last for long, not with all of the efforts being made by all sectors involved. Prevention is ramping up, treatment is expanding, and recovery support services are blossoming all around the state in one form or another,” says Crews. “HOPE is coming to your community.”