‘We’re not going to give up on people’: No-eviction order keeps residents who relapse in sober housing

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Mayor Joyce Craig and former Mayor Ted Gatsas join a ribbon-cutting in Sept. 2019 at the Manchester Treatment and Recovery Center, formerly Hoitt’s Furniture. Located at the corner of Wilson and Valley streets in Manchester, the center houses four separate social service agencies to coordinate assistance for Manchester’s most vulnerable citizens seeking recovery services, including Hope for NH Recovery, Families in Transition, the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester and Catholic Medical Center’s Integrated Health Center. File Photo/Andrew Sylvia

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MANCHESTER, NH — People who stumble on their road to recovery in a sober house usually face the prospect of being evicted when they relapse, but the state’s current ban on evictions is complicating the already fraught process.

Keith Howard, executive director at the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery community center in Manchester, said some residents are relapsing while living in the transitional sober house located in the floors above his Wilson Street recovery center. The sober housing units are operated by Families in Transition, and Howard said residents who violate the sober housing agreements are usually supposed to be evicted.

“As I understand it, Gov. (Chris) Sununu’s order regarding evictions has made it very difficult for recovery houses in the state to discharge folks for violating agreements regarding remaining sober,” Howard said. “There appears to be recovery houses where one or two or more residents have suffered a recurrence.”

Families in Transition offers a variety of housing and recovery treatment options at the Manchester recovery center facility, said Meg Shea, vice president of clinical and supportive services for Families in Transition. Shea could not comment on any specific instances, but said Families in Transition generally tries to avoid evictions for clients.

“We come from a different philosophy, we truly believe the treatment process can be pretty complex,” Shea said. 

Shea did say that Families in Transition will take action, even eviction, if there is a concern for the safety of any of the clients. When that does happen, the organization is careful to follow relevant state law. At present moment, Shea said Families in Transition is well aware of the current executive orders regarding evictions.

“We follow all of the stay at home orders and the executive orders that have taken place,” Shea said.

As part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, Sununu temporarily halted evictions and foreclosures by way of an emergency order as soon as a state of emergency was first declared in March. Howard said the order has created some problems for people in recovery, as the normal consequence of relapsing in a sober house is no longer being enforced.

The Manchester Treatment and Recovery Center on Wilson Street in Manchester. File Photo

Under normal circumstances pre-COVID-19, people could be evicted for relapsing. Howard said that could mean homelessness for the person evicted. Being out on the street during a pandemic is less than ideal, Howard said.

“Every place is a dangerous place to be when it comes to COVID-19,” he said.

Howard said recovery houses can be influential with people in the early stages of their sobriety.

“I’ve been in recovery for 12 years and I’m responsible for my own recovery, but when I first got clean and got sober, if I was surrounded by people using it would have been a lot harder to get through,” Howard said.

According to Shea, the Wilson Street facility combines different services, including outpatient treatment, recovery housing for women with children, and transitional housing for single women. 

“It’s a unique building in our community meant to tackle co-occurring mental health and addiction issues,” Shea said.

Shea said the goal for Families in transition is to get people to a healthy and safe place in their lives. That journey can sometimes include a relapse, Shea said.

“We’re not going to give up on people,” Shea said.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org