Home News and Features On Again: Downstreet’s Recovery Project For Women With Kids

On Again: Downstreet’s Recovery Project For Women With Kids

Downstreet Housing and Community Development plans a new Recovery Residence for women and their children in this house in Barre. They are still fundraising to complete the project. Photo courtesy of Downstreet.
The numbers are distressing. They reveal Vermont — meaning Vermonters — to be plagued by addiction to alcohol, opiates, cocaine, and methamphetamine at rates that exceed nearly every state in the union. We may deplore the social maladies of other states — Mississippi’s legacy of violent racism, and (per Forbes’ website)
COVID-vaccine resistance run amok in South Dakota and Alaska, and militia fixation in Michigan. Yet in every case they are less afflicted than Vermont by the devastating malady of substance use disorder. 

It is constantly with us; three reported deaths occurred in central Vermont at the end of November.

A 2019 report, funded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for Downstreet Housing and Community Development, in Barre, found that substance use disorder affects “more than 52,000 [Vermont] residents, or one in 10 individuals over age 12. Only the District of Columbia has a higher concentration of substance use disorder.” Elsewhere the report cites a study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that found Vermont and Massachusetts tied for this distinction. 

“Vermont’s rate,” the report concludes, “is 31-percent higher than the national average.”

To their credit, government, public-health, and social-services organizations here (businesses, too) are confronting the problem: dissecting its causes and investing in a host of interwoven remedial programs to help Vermonters surmount their addictions. The title of the exhaustive 2019 report, prepared by John Ryan of Development Cycles, in East Montpelier, points to an important facet of this effort: “Housing: A Critical Link to Recovery — An Assessment of the Need for RECOVERY RESIDENCES In Vermont.”

Recovery residences are a form of transitional housing — group homes, where people who have begun their difficult journey toward sobriety receive two critical benefits: (1) supportive companionship from fellow residents, supplementing the coaching they receive from counselors and mentors through local “recovery centers”; and (2) simply the housing itself. Homelessness and poverty are often intertwined with substance use disorder. “Housing instability,” says the report, “represents one of the greatest external hurdles to a recovery that is already inherently difficult.”

Housing is what Downstreet does, and since the report found central Vermont to be one of the regions in greatest distress — with the second-highest number of people in treatment for substance use disorder, and the second-highest in treatment for heroin specifically — Downstreet determined to start in its own backyard. It would create a “recovery residence” in downtown Barre.

Furthermore, the new residence would house a population virtually un-served in Vermont: mothers with children. The 2019 report found that women constituted 42 percent of Vermonters considered to be in recovery, yet fully 73 percent of recovery residence beds were reserved for men. (The report is almost three years old, and statistics may have shifted.) In central Vermont, 953 residents were “coming out of treatment” — which doesn’t mean they were safely past their addiction but that they had made progress through medical facilities or resources such as Turning Point Center in Barre. Of that number, 438 were women. Yet all 20 recovery residence beds in the area were reserved for men.

Throw in motherhood and the numbers get worse. In all of Vermont, just one such residence accommodated women with children.

Downstreet, then, clearly saw its mission and launched a drive to purchase and convert a 100-year-old house in the city. Funding would not be a challenge, as Downstreet is well-connected with funding streams for low-income and affordable housing. 

But then COVID-19 happened. Like so much else, the project stalled. However, Downstreet revitalized the effort this past September.

“We asked the construction manager to update the estimate, which had been drafted in 2019,” says communications manager Cara Hansen. “Because of pandemic-related increases, such as land costs and materials, it had increased $150,000.”

So in November Downstreet launched a crowd-source funding campaign. Revenues will be targeted specifically to those cost overruns. And there’s no going back, says Michelle Kersey, Downstreet’s donor-relations manager. “We’re fundraising until it’s fully funded.”

Giving Tuesday (November 30) was firmly in Downstreet’s sights, and Shift Real Estate of South Burlington kicked it off with a matching-gift plan to support the cause. “The first $10,000 donated will be matched dollar for dollar,” says Kersey, “and the second $10,000 raised will be matched at 50 cents per dollar, for a total of $15,000 from Shift Real Estate.” 

On Dec. 6 she reported, “We’ve raised $4,000 toward the match so far.”

“When I heard about this project, I got really excited,” says Shift CEO Martha Nowlan, whose company motto is “socially responsible real estate.” 

“Substance abuse disorder trickles down through generations, so any effort to break that cycle is a huge win in my book. Combine that with providing housing for vulnerable communities and that’s something I can get behind. This will provide a safe space to keep families together, nurture good habits, and provide a safety net for these women as they build a new life for themselves.”

When the residence becomes operational, it will be overseen by Vermont Foundation of Recovery (VFOR), a seasoned recovery team with projects in Chittenden County, Morrisville, St. Albans, and St. Johnsbury. Its executive director, David Riegel, believes Barre is a good location, both because of the community’s needs and the existence of a network of proven resources, such as the Turning Point Center, for people on the recovery path.

The average stay in a recovery residence is approximately 12 months, so Riegel projects that in the coming decade 60 mothers — and, crucially, their families — will benefit from their own, supported, resilience and courage as they journey toward sobriety and stability.

Readers of The Bridge can lend a hand by contacting Downstreet Housing and Community Development in Barre. The three recent deaths noted above were not outliers: by August of this year, 14 people in Washington County had died of heroin overdose in 2021.