As individuals make the transition from substance use treatment in a highly supervised setting to the somewhat more relaxed environment of a sober home, they often are expected to re-engage in work or school activities from the get-go. For many of the young men whom Heidi Voet Smith and her husband Michael Smith have assisted during their careers, that challenge can prove overwhelming.
“Some people can go to a regular sober house and do really well,” says Heidi Voet Smith, who blogs for Addiction Professional on the dynamics of 12-Step treatment and recovery. “But there are a percentage who need more support than that. Someone with debilitating social anxiety who hears, 'Hey, go get a job' is going to say, 'What?' They can't fathom what that looks like.”
Heidi, who has worked at Burning Tree Programs near Dallas since 2007 and serves as the organization's senior clinical advisor, and Michael, who recently left a position as CEO of the Granite House recovery residence in New Hampshire, will open Chapter House in the Dallas suburb of Richardson on Dec. 1. The program will offer a three-stage recovery support model that the Smiths are calling “Landing, Launching, and Living,” and it will target young adult men whose life struggles fall under the “failure to launch” framework.
“A lot of the young men who I've worked with have been on the cusp of going back to school or pursuing a career and got sidetracked,” says Michael Smith. “Then there are others who didn't think they were worthy enough for that.”
Heidi Voet Smith says of herself and her husband, “We are 12-Steppers through and through,” and the program will feature 12-Step immersion and an abstinence focus. Heidi will run an intensive outpatient program (IOP) that will operate on a parallel track to the recovery residence. The IOP is being established as a separate organization. Men ages 18 to 35 will proceed deliberately into building life skills as they reside in the 12-bed, 5,700-square-foot home.
Michael Smith anticipates that each of the three stages of the recovery support program will last for an average of 60 days for most residents. The “Landing” stage will emphasize settling into a safe environment and working the Steps, with a great deal of group work and around 10 to 12 hours a week of accompanying outpatient services. The question residents will be asked during that stage is “What do they want to be when they grow up?” Michael says.
In the “Launching” stage, residents will test the waters in work or school opportunities, at a gradual pace involving possibly one or two classes or 20 hours of work. “Nothing will be done full-time,” Michael Smith says. “There will be more one-on-one time in this stage, and more case management.”
In the “Living” stage, residents will take on more responsibility in their recovery-focused life pursuits. As this stage is completed, “The resident will probably end up getting an apartment with another guy in the house,” Michael Smith says.
The sober living component will cost residents $3,500 a month, while the IOP will cost $1,500 a month and be eligible for insurance reimbursement. Unlike many other sober residences, Chapter House will feature an “awake” staff presence during overnight hours, Heidi Smith says.
On the currently sensitive topic of drug testing protocols in sober living settings, the Smiths say they will not bill insurance companies for drug tests (instead incorporating the cost of in-house testing into the residence's fees), and will test residents around twice a week at the start of the program.
The Smiths already have a certificate of occupancy for the home, which they found after originally eyeing a downtown Dallas church property for their program. Members of the homeowners association in the local community have expressed unrest about the planned new use of the property, with one resident recently going so far as to walk through the front door of the house unannounced to demand an on-the-spot tour.
“It's amazing that we're living in the 21st century and there is still a lot of stigma,” Michael Smith says.
Heidi Smith, who will continue to serve Burning Tree in a consulting capacity, says she sees an unmistakable need in the Dallas area for this type of program. “There are a lot of sober residences that are excellent, but many are not as structured or supervised as what we'll be doing,” she says.