Clean and sober houses home to healing

Passing by, there’s nothing about the neat, two-story Hanama‘ulu house that betrays its identity as a transition home for convicts and former addicts.

Even neighbors wouldn’t guess that the quiet residents are struggling to leave pasts of drug abuse and crime behind.

But talk to the men who have found healing and a new way to live within those four walls, and their message of survival is loud and clear.

“It’s about starting a new life, with new acquaintances and new goals and always having to remember why you are here,” said Dennis, the house manager since March and a resident since November.

Most of the residents have tried cleaning up before. This time they are succeeding with the support of Ke Ala Hoku, a nonprofit that operates the Hanama‘ulu house and nine other long-term clean and sober homes on Kaua‘i.

According to executive director Rebekah Reid, Ke Ala Hoku runs the island’s only such transitional facilities, and next month it will celebrate one year of service.

What began as a single unit in Kapa‘a with three people has grown to include six apartments and five homes, which collectively house 34 adults. Since the doors opened, about 20 people have graduated from the program.

Reid says the homes provide structure and support for former addicts and convicts who are trying to turn their lives around.

“Even with the best intentions, if the environment isn’t helping they have a tough time,” she said.

Applicants are thoroughly screened — sex offenders and abusive addicts are not eligible — and Reid emphasized that those selected have shown they are ready to change.

Additionally, participants must be residents of Kaua‘i, as her emphasis is on helping them here, where they live.

“When people can stay in their own community and start to develop skills for recovery in their community, that’s real coping,” Reid said.

The housing is not a free ride and is only available for individuals who are committed to staying drug-free and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

“To get in you have to want to change, you have to make steps first,” Dennis, 38, confirmed. After years of using ice and going in and out of jail, the clean-cut, articulate resident says he has left his past behind thanks to the program. Now, as the house manager, he has taken on the role of mentor for his housemates.

According to Dennis, a big factor in relapse is the frustration of everyday challenges such as not having a ride to work.

“There are so many people that need positive feedback, that need to know when they wake up in the morning that they can get someplace,” he said. “It’s about not losing hope.”

Erik, 18, is the youngest and newest resident at the Hanama‘ulu house, but a friendly demeanor and smile don’t let on to his troubled past.

Like many of his housemates, Erik said the supportive and sober environment has helped break the pattern of meth use and prison that still plagues many of his friends.

He said he feels “lucky and grateful to be (at the house) and not in jail.”

But the rules and expectations are not for everyone, Dennis said, and you figure it out pretty quickly. The spotless Hanama‘ulu house is kept tidy — both inside and out.

There is a nightly curfew of 7 p.m. for new residents and 10 p.m. for others as well as a house meeting on Sundays. And residents are expected to work within two weeks of arriving.

Roommates must show respect for one another, Dennis said, and contribute to house bills.

In fact, rent and utilities at the Hanama‘ulu house are completely covered by its tenants. According to Reid, the organization steps in with the difference when necessary and pays the first month’s rent for new residents.

“There’s a lot less stress here because you know what you have to do and there are people here to help,” Dennis said. But, he cautioned, “if you cannot make it here, there is hardly anywhere else.”

The support that participants receive extends beyond housing to include Ke Ala Hoku’s 25 volunteer ho‘okele, or navigators.

Because most residents are referred by court services, almost all concurrently participate in some type of court-ordered rehabilitation or have parole officers monitoring their progress.

For this reason, the volunteers serve as mentors to help with other challenges on the periphery of recovery such as job, roommate and family issues, Reid said. Volunteers are asked to dial their mentoree once a day and meet in person once a week.

While many people think they need similar experiences to be of help, that is just not the case.

“We don’t need (the volunteers) to know about drug addiction,” Reid said. “(The residents) have got that down pat.” What they do need, she continued, is someone who knows how to live a healthy lifestyle.

To recruit new volunteers, Ke Ala Hoku has planned a training seminar Saturday at the Sheraton Hotel in Koloa at 2440 Hoonani Road. The event, which will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., is co-sponsored by Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s office.

Ke Ala Hoku runs in partnership with the Kaua‘i Association of the Hawai’i Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Funding comes from various private donors, and the state Legislature just awarded the program a grant that will be used in part to plan a transitional environment in which residents can both live and work.

As for future plans, Reid said she is thinking big after a year of successful firsts.

• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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