Newspaper, Blogs and other Media Links on Oxford House
2014 Kent, England news story on the first OH in England:
2014. Boyle foundation aims to help subsidize the cost of rehab
2014 How Does AA Work? Just Fine:
2013. William L. White’s interview of Leonard Jason posted under the Pioneer Interviews section at this webpage:
2013 (August 1). Webinar titled: “Why Living in Safe, Sober and Peer Supportive Environments Matter in Recovery”:
2013 policy statement on Recovery Residence is now on the SCRA webpage:
2013, June, article titled: “NARR-SCRA policy statement moves ‘sober homes’ toward new legitimacy” in Alcoholism Drug Abuse Weekly:
2013 blog on the Oxford University Press policy statement that was issued on Recovery Residences:
2013 (March 6th) blog on the Oxford University Press titled: “Even Small Government Incentives Can Help Tackle Entrenched Social Problems”:
2013 (March 26th) blog on the Oxford University Press is a reaction to a New York Times study titled: “Humane, cost-effective systems for formerly incarcerated people”:
2013 (July) Newspaper report in the press on sober living homes and problems with some of them:
2013 In the National Drug Control Strategy, the Obama administration has prioritized the further development of recovery support services and recovery-oriented service systems, and findings from Oxford House and our research were cited as evidence of their effectiveness:
Below is a section on page 19 of this document:
“The Administration is working with states, tribes, local governments, treatment and recovery support services providers, and other stakeholders to develop systems and services that support sustained recovery. An essential component of this effort is promoting the use of recovery support services—non-clinical services that target people in or seeking recovery. These services are often provided by people who are themselves in sustained recovery and are employed by or volunteer at peer-led recovery community organizations. Evidence shows that expanding recovery support services increases the percentage of people that successfully navigate the passage from early recovery to stable recovery. While limited research has been conducted on recovery support services, there is nonetheless evidence of their effectiveness. For example, residence in an Oxford House, a form of peer-run recovery residence, is associated with reduced substance use, increased employment, and improved self-regulation (41). Moreover, the Oxford House model has been found to be cost-effective (42).”
41. Jason, L.A., Olson, B., Ferrari, J.R., Majer, J.M., Alvarez, J., Stout, J.(2007).An examination of main and interactive effects of substance abuse recovery housing on multiple indicators of adjustment. Addiction, 102, 1114–1121.
42. Lo Sasso, A.T., Byro, E., Jason, L.A., Ferrari, J.R., & Olson, B.(2012).Benefits and costs associated with mutual-help community-based recovery homes: The Oxford House model. Evaluation and Program Planning, 35(1), 47-53.
2012 (Dec) Portland Tribune story on OHs in Portland:
2011 Chicago Tribune. Recovery homes reach out to Latinos
2008. The Psychological Channel. Recovery Communities:
2006 Recovery coast to coast radio program with several members of Oxford House and Jason:
YouTube videos on Oxford House
2013 (April). YouTube video on OH describing DePaul’s collaboration titled: “Community Psychology: Partnerships for Social Justice”:
2012 (Sept) video that features Jason describing Oxford Houses:
2011 (Oct) Wichita, Kansas Oxford House organization:
2009 (March) video of Oxford Houses in Georgia:
1991 Paul Molloy’s 60 Minutes CBS broadcast regarding Oxford House:
Other Oxford House Media Stories
2012 (Sept) newsletter from the Society for Community Research and Action Practice Council's Media group.
Better Outcomes for Substance Abuse Addiction
Alcohol and drug addiction is a complex and pervasive chronic condition that causes substantial harm, not only to individuals suffering from addiction, but also to those around them. Recognizing the importance of understanding this complex condition, a team of Chicago-based community psychologists, led by Dr. Leonard Jason of DePaul University, has focused its efforts on studying recovery outcomes for those in recovery from addiction.
At a young age, Dr. Jason discovered the atrocities of the Holocaust, and this knowledge motivated him to work for social change. He understood that most community changes are not brought about by authority figures such as politicians, but by ordinary members of the community. After learning about the Oxford House model, he recognized it as a prime example of individuals successfully using the support of their communities to overcome their difficulties. For over 20 years, Dr. Jason and his team have been researching the role that Oxford Houses play in substance abuse recovery.
Oxford Houses (OH) are self-governing recovery homes that are rented by six to ten people who are in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction.
Oxford Houses are run democratically, require residents to pay an equal share of rent and expenses, and have a zero tolerance policy toward alcohol and drug use. What makes OH’s distinct from similar institutions is that there are no residency time limits, something that current addiction research deems very important, as there is no universal timeline for a successful recovery process.
For years, the results of Dr. Jason’s research have provided food for thought to many who are interested in addiction and recovery within the scientific community. Through a number of multi-million dollar grants from the National Institute of Health, Dr. Jason and his team have empirically validated the positive effects of Oxford House residency when compared to usual care facilities, such as higher abstinence rates (69% vs. 35%), higher monthly income ($989 vs. $440), and lower incarceration rates (3% vs. 9%). These findings led the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA) to recognize the OH model as a successful recovery model and also resulted in the reinstatement of Illinois’s revolving fund to help open new houses, among other benefits. Outside of academic publications, descriptions of Dr. Jason’s past and current research are systematically distributed at the Oxford House conferences.
Ed Stevens, a graduate student in DePaul’s doctoral Community Psychology program, believes that the team’s research answers three very important questions about the OH model: 1) Does it work? 2) Can it be replicated? and 3) Can its elements be used for other systems? Ed calls OH a “grassroots model” and a “classic form of empowerment” in which people are trying to solve their own problems and overcome their own obstacles. Olya Belyaev-Glantsman, a doctoral student in DePaul’s Community Psychology program who has worked with Dr. Jason since 2001, states, “It feels great knowing that thousands of lives are positively affected by Dr. Jason’s work.” Ed Stevens adds, “I love the topic. I love people we are involved with; it’s an honor to work with them.”
The feedback from Oxford House representatives on their experience working with the DePaul University research team is also overwhelmingly positive. For example, when asked about his involvement with the OH research team, Rory, a state coordinator and an Oxford House resident for seven years, said that it makes him feel good to be a part of this team, and that he is glad the team sought his help. “After being part of a problem for so long, I feel like I am now part of the solution,” he continued. Rory has been working with DePaul’s team for three years, helping with recruiting, tracking, and placing individuals into Oxford Houses. He also holds another important role – through his own experience, as well as his active involvement with Oxford House, Inc., he helps the team to better understand the addiction and the recovery process. Rory laughs when he reflects on his first experience at the team’s weekly meeting: “[Coming in with no research skills,] at first I was lost,” but over the years he has become comfortable interpreting data and is often the one the team turns to when it needs help explaining the results of its studies.
The topic of recovery is extremely important and through this truly collaborative partnership, the Oxford House Inc. and the DePaul’s research team are constantly sharing resources and learning from each other on the road to better outcomes for substance abuse addiction. The years of systematic research by Dr. Jason’s team helped raise awareness of this successful and cost effective recovery approach.
THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
The Oxford House program lets recovering addicts help themselves
By Dean Olsen
Feb 06, 2009
One day last month, Angie McAdams was dumped by her longtime boyfriend.
The 47-year-old felt the urge to drink or snort cocaine to deal with the emotional pain.
But she had to think twice. She enjoyed living in the house near Lawrence Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard that she had called home for about a month.
And she didn’t want to be evicted on the spot, which is what happens to people in the structured environment of an Oxford House if they are found using or possessing the materials that made them addicts and led them there in the first place.
McAdams used to earn $100,000 a year as a finance director of auto dealerships in Springfield, Bloomington and the state of Virginia. But she spent most of her salary on booze and drugs. Now she is grateful for her minimum-wage job at Hardee’s.
McAdams mustered the strength to abstain that day, drawing support from her fellow housemates, all of whom were struggling day by day, sometimes hour by hour, to remain clean.
“This place teaches you how to deal with stuff like that,” she said in the dining room of the Oxford site known as Laton House at 705 S. English Ave.
“This house kept me from doing something stupid.”
Virtually unknown to people outside the recovery community, Oxford Houses have proven to be remarkably successful at helping recovering alcoholics and addicts adjust to lives of sobriety and return to employment.
Despite some initial resistance from neighbors and local officials in Springfield in the late 1990s, Oxford Houses seem to be accepted here and have been associated with few problems, according to local officials, neighbors and neighborhood groups.
“It’s not as bad as what I thought they would be. I really expected worse,” said Cindy Cleaver, 51, president of the Near South Neighborhood
Association. She lives across the street from an Oxford House on South Fourth Street and about a block from another on South Fifth Street.
“They’re definitely going out of their way to be friendly,” Cleaver said.
Added Frank Michael Parrish, 52, who lives next door to an all-women Oxford House in the 400 block of Williams Street: “They’re a nice bunch of young ladies. I haven’t had any problem with them.”
Governed by the residents themselves — who must pay their own rent to private landlords and help repay the $5,000 state loans used to establish each Oxford House — the homes provide low-cost housing for adults having a difficult time landing good-paying jobs after years of being slaves to their addictions.
“At this point in my recovery, being alone is not a good thing,” said Lynn Jacoby, 37, a Springfield native and divorced mother of two who works at Rally’s Hamburgers, lives at Laton House with McAdams and serves as the house president. “This is basically my family.”
How it works
At any time, about 1,200 Oxford Houses are operating throughout the country, serving 10,000 people. Illinois has 54 such houses, serving 200 to 300 people.
The first Oxford House in Sangamon County opened in Southern View in 1991 and continues to operate. Springfield at one time had 10 Oxford Houses. Five remain.
They serve a total of about 40 people, many of whom grew up in central Illinois. Oxford Houses also operate in Decatur and Bloomington-Normal.
Private landlords own the houses. They receive market-rate rent paid by the tenants, who interview for spots and agree to live based on the self governing Oxford House model developed by recovering addicts in the mid-1970s in Maryland and featured in a 1991 segment of “60 Minutes.”
Each house receives a name and, eventually, a charter from the nonprofit Oxford House Inc. House residents meet weekly, and representatives from regional “chapters” meet monthly in each state to discuss plans and troubleshoot problems.
The average rent per person is $60 to $90 a week in the Springfield area, including utilities, and each resident buys his or her own food. Almost all of the residents have jobs. Those who don’t are required to volunteer in the community or do chores around the house to avoid idle time.
Most residents have taken part in some sort of inpatient treatment program before coming to an Oxford House, and many have drug-related convictions. Nationwide, 70 percent of Oxford House residents are men, and 55 percent are white.
Unlike a halfway house, there is no paid staff from a social service agency. The residents help each other. However, residents often attend Alcoholics
Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and may get services from some agencies — and occasionally rental assistance — on their own.
Most homes have six to nine residents, and most residents have at least one roommate. Organizers say the numbers in each home help to keep the rent low and contribute to the social dynamics central to the support-group format.
The self-governing philosophy is designed to infuse a sense of responsibility that many residents have avoided during years of substance abuse and fractured relationships.
“We all have a common thing — getting our life together,” said Edward Ferguson, 41, who lives in an Oxford House in Southern View with seven other men and works for a collection agency. “It’s togetherness; it just doesn’t work by itself. It’s a democracy here.”
Residents can stay at an Oxford House as long as they like, but the average stay is a year. Residents must help keep each house tidy and can be fined $5 or $10 for failing to do chores or leaving messes. They are allowed to have overnight guests of the opposite sex if arrangements can be worked out with their roommates, and their children sometimes can spend weekends at the houses.
But they are automatically evicted, and given only an hour or two to leave, if they are found to have possessed or used drugs. The houses sometimes require on-the-spot urine tests.
In extreme cases, a majority of house members can vote to evict residents for failing to pay rent or disruptive conduct.
Like most states, Illinois provided interest-free loans to help Oxford Houses get started until 2001, when state officials, who had doubts about the value of the $100,000 revolving-loan program in an economic downturn, shelved the program.
Research that DePaul University psychology professor Leonard Jason published in 2006 convinced state officials to reinstate the loans in June 2007.
“It’s difficult for a person in recovery to find housing, to find jobs, etc.,” said Fran Bassett, a Chicago-based program manager for the Illinois Department of Human Service’s Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “Oxford House gives them a better chance of helping get their lives on track. We could use more Oxford Houses.”
Like a good neighbor
In Springfield, Oxford Houses have a good track record and provide a critical bridge to a drug-free life outside a treatment center, said Keith Kuhn, community director of Springfield’s Gateway Foundation site.
Leanna Tomlin-Lange, director of client services for Triangle Center, said the houses “have become quite valuable for us.”
Springfield wasn’t unlike other communities in initially resisting Oxford Houses. Hearing concerns from nervous neighbors, the city council in the late 1990s denied a variance for an Oxford House at 1235 N. Fifth St., citing the current zoning law that prohibits more than five unrelated people from living in a residential home.
In response, the Oxford House headquarters sued the city in 1997 for violating federal fair-housing laws.
The city settled the lawsuit out of court a year later, paying $5,000 for the group’s legal expenses and allowing the variance. Similar situations have played out in other communities, Jason said.
The Springfield council, despite hearing neighborhood opposition again, granted several more Oxford House variances in 1999. Two of the current Oxford Houses in Springfield that opened since then haven’t sought variances, but city officials probably wouldn’t require the houses to get variances unless neighbors complain, city spokesman Ernie Slottag said.
It’s important for Oxford House residents, despite their internal struggles with sobriety, to be good neighbors, said Chicago-area resident Leon Venable, a former Oxford House resident whose Kalimba House Corp. has an $81,000 annual contract with the state to monitor and guide new Oxford Houses.
“All of our neighbors love us,” he said.
Oxford Houses offer a structured and somewhat protected environment that recovering substance-abusers need, said Ken Fraction, 49, a welder who has lived at Oxford’s Southern View house for almost nine years. Drug-free for 10 years, he enjoys being a mentor to the home’s younger members, some of whom work for state government.
He said his situation “gives them hope” and the insight to “know what you need to tell somebody if they need help. Everybody has their own journey.”
The eight men who live at the Oxford location known as Iles House on Springfield’s south side get along but don’t always hang out together, said house president Steve Otter, 28, who works at McDonald’s.
“Everybody does their own thing,” he said, adding that the guys are quick to spot someone who is likely to relapse and may need encouragement.
“Living with someone for so long, you get used to their behaviors, and you notice when they’re changing.”
At Laton House, resident Victoria Branda, 23, loudly voiced her displeasure with another resident’s conduct during a house meeting last month.
Because the conduct was unrelated to drugs or alcohol, Venable, sitting in during the meeting, cautioned the women to not be so judgmental.
“Everyone does make a bad decision in their process of recovery,” he told them.
Branda was evicted from the house the following day for issues related to rent payments, but she said she didn’t regret spending time at the house and credited the residents with helping her remain drug-free.
“I learned to be an adult again,” said Branda, a suburban Chicago native whose drinking and drug abuse almost prevented her from earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Illinois State University. “I wouldn’t be clean today if I hadn’t lived there.”
Laton House resident Shirley “Samie” Miller, 23, expects to deliver her third child later this month. Because of the Livingston County native’s depression-related drug problems, she said her 5-year-old son is living with her mother temporarily. Miller put her second child up for adoption four years ago.
She is divorced and hopes to raise her future daughter with the baby’s father. Recovery and life at Laton House hasn’t always been easy for her, but she said, “I really like it here.”
She is looking forward to bringing the baby to the house to live, at least for a while. “I think it will bring everyone even closer together,” she said.
Miller has become close with her roommate, Amy Warner, 29, who was born in Danville, grew up in Hoopeston and became addicted to drugs and alcohol in a town that she said had little to offer young people. With four DUI convictions, she is grateful that she never hurt or killed anyone driving
and said Oxford House “makes me accountable for my actions.”
She hopes to attend college and work with Alzheimer’s patients someday.
Laton House resident Amber Mason, 20, wants to go to college and become a photojournalist. But for now, she is happy to be off crack cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.
She works full time as a waitress at Red Lobster while her 18-month-old daughter, Yolanda, is in day care.
“When I was using, I was not a good mother at all,” said Mason, who is divorced and grew up in Auburn and Chatham. Yolanda lives with her at the
house, which Mason said is not perfect but a welcome change after her unhappy childhood and a stint of homelessness.
“We all have our struggles,” she said, “but it helps that I have this support system for this part of my life. I’ve never felt so at home in my whole life.”
Jacoby, who is divorced with two adolescent children, said her addictions led to separate robbery, theft and aggravated battery convictions that landed her in prison for a total of four years.
She said she is more confident than ever about her chances for a long-term recovery and proud of helping to establish Laton House last fall after living at other Oxford Houses in Springfield in 1998, 2002 and 2008.
“I believe in what the Oxford House has done for me,” she said. “I believe in what other Oxford Houses will do for other addicts when I’m gone.”
Sangamon County’s Oxford Houses
* 446 Williams St., Springfield (Williams House, for women)
* 705 S. English Ave., Springfield (Laton House, for women)
* 1824 S. Fourth St., Springfield (Iles House, for men)
* 1235 N. Fifth St., Springfield (Sangamon House, for men)
* 1936 S. Fifth St., Springfield (White Oaks House, for men)
* 3325 S. First St., Southern View (Southern View House, for men)
The Oxford House model
* The house must be democratically self-run.
* The house membership is responsible for all household expenses.
* There are men-only houses and women-only houses, but no houses for both groups to live together.
* Oxford Houses have six to 10 members.
* There is no time limit on sobriety before coming to an Oxford House. Generally, an individual comes to an Oxford House after a 28-day rehabilitation program or a five- to 10-day detoxification program.
Do Oxford Houses work?
The tough love and support in Oxford Houses seem to be working, based on results of federally funded studies conducted by DePaul University
psychology professor Leonard Jason and his colleagues, who wrote a 2008 book on the Oxford House approach, “Rescued Lives.”
One of the studies tracked 150 Illinois residents discharged from residential treatment programs. Jason found that after two years, almost 70 percent of the Oxford House residents were drug-free, compared with 35 percent of the residents who were living with friends or relatives or on their own.
“It makes sense,” said Jason, director of the Chicago institution’s Center for Community Research. “If you basically take people and you dry them out, clean them up, get them without their drugs and then send them back to the same environments, the same families, the same usage patterns, then it’s not surprising that a lot of those folks are going to relapse and end up being habitual users as well as being involved in criminal activities.”
Jason also found that the homes don’t attract crime or drive down neighborhood property values.
His research indicates that the stability provided by Oxford Houses leads to higher average wages and lower incarceration rates.
Accounting only for the 75 Illinois Oxford House residents he tracked in the Chicago area, Jason estimated that the state experienced a net savings of $613,000, or $8,173 for each of the 75 residents.
Jason said he is puzzled by the relative lack of attention that the homes receive from policy-makers and the news media. “If I were to say that we can change outcomes of people who are going to be able to get jobs, not go back to prison and stay substance-free and that we can make a major difference in people’s lives through group living, nobody cares. But if I had a pill that did any of those things, it would be on the front of The New York Times.”
For more information on Oxford Houses, go to www.oxfordhouse.org or contact the not-for-profit group’s headquarters at 1010 Wayne Ave., Suite 300, Silver Spring, Md. 20910, or call (800) 689-6411.
Daytona Beach News Journal
April 14, 2008
Recovering: The Oxford House
Community homes for recovering drug and alcohol addicts are revived after a DePaul study proves their worth
A five-year study by DePaul’s Center for Community Research made Illinois lawmakers take notice. They recently passed funding for the multiplication of non-institutional, democratically self-governing substance abuse rehabilitation centers known as Oxford Houses.
The new funding was a product of the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (DASA). The grant provides for the opening of four new Illinois Oxford Houses this spring among the 11 new homes DASA hopes to subsidize by the end of the year. The creation of up to 20 new Oxford Houses annually across the state is the goal of DASA beyond 2008.
The Study's Results
The Center for Community Research, headed by DePaul professor of psychology Dr. Leonard A. Jason, has advocated the liberal approach of the Oxford House system. Its research on the system was heavily considered by DASA and was cited by the government department in support for the new funds.
"[The Center for Community Research] did a study which indicated that if you provided these types of support and care after people have been in treatment for substance abuse, you could get about twice as many people to stay sober over a two year period of time," Jason said.
Jason worked alongside DePaul colleague and fellow-psychology professor Dr. Joseph Ferrari among others, including Northwestern professor of research Brad D. Olson, in studying the effects of the Oxford House democratic rehab method.
The two studies released by the group in 2006 showed drug abstinence rates of 65 to 87 percent among recovering addicts who lived communally in the self-supporting Oxford House system. The results bucked prior notions that a majority of recovering substance users relapsed after treatment.
Jason’s reasoning is simple. "If you have someone who is dealing with substances and drugs and then they get released back to the same family and neighborhoods that might have high levels of substance abuse and you don’t provide them any types of support, the likelihood is that many of those people will relapse," he said. "If you provide housing, opportunities for employment, peer support you can reduce that rate by half."
Ferrari, a Vincent DePaul Distinguished Professor, credited the Oxford House system’s success to the reality that "a sense of home is very important for people" and that the method respects the "individuality and dignity" of each person who lives in an Oxford House.
Resident Turned Landlord
Stephanie Marez is a shining example of the system’s benefits. After bouncing from treatment center to treatment center for her alcohol abuse, Marez spent just under a year as an Oxford House resident in 2004.
"It worked itself out to be the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. "Who better to understand an addict than another addict?"
After moving out of her Oxford House clean about three years ago, Marez now serves on the State Board of Illinois for Oxford Houses while working at DePaul on a study of ex-drug offenders’ post-treatment options. She is also the landlord of an Oxford House and trains new residents in particular positions they will hold in their house.
This recent expansion of funding is not the first time that Oxford Houses have been subsidized by the Illinois government.
According to Ferrari, state governments were federally mandated to provide $100,000 in annual funding for Oxford Houses throughout the 1990s, a small price to pay for effective substance abuse recovery. By 2003, however, DASA discontinued the funding based on a lack of data supporting the Oxford House system.
"There was no data to show that it did not work," said Ferrari in reaction, who gives much credit to the DePaul study for the reinstatement. "We were able to show how cost-effective it is; these people are getting their own jobs and paying their own rent."
Ferrari insisted that the government’s bias towards the institutions it funds heavily such as hospitals and traditional rehabilitation centers was the real reason DASA cut funding for Oxford Houses.
"Oxford Houses are controversial because they are showing that people can take care of themselves. [Oxford House residents] don’t need the medical community."
Since residents must be employed, pay rent and work to pay off the initial government loans provided to each group home, Oxford Houses are, as Ferrari pointed out, an extremely cost-effective rehabilitation method.
There are so many people that are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, the prisons are just overcrowded. There is such a need for sober living and recovery homes," Marez said.
Jason indicated that the high abstinence rates of former addicts coming out of Oxford Houses contribute to the system’s public thrift. With a population of ex-offenders less prone to relapse, there is a lesser chance that the recovered will end up in prisons, hospitals or other publicly funded institutions in the future. Fewer relapses equal less taxpayer money.
Though it should not be viewed as an end, Marez believes that the new funding is "a step in the right direction." Ferrari is looking forward to the locations of the new houses, emphasizing that they are necessary in both urban and rural communities. Jason hopes the supportive research for Oxford Houses leads to a similar treatment of social outcasts including criminals and the homeless.
The Study and the Oxford House
The DePaul study was performed through interviews with Oxford House residents every six months for two years. After two years, Jason noted, most of the residents had left their Oxford House rehabilitated. Many of the interviews were done by DePaul students, graduate and undergraduate, while Jason and Ferrari directed the research, which took place between 2000 and 2005.
A network overseen by the nonprofit, publicly dependent corporation Oxford Houses, Inc., Oxford Houses are located across the United States as well as in countries such as Canada and Australia. Currently, there are 39 Oxford Houses in Illinois, including three in Chicago.
Each group home houses six to 15. An initial $5,000 loan is given to each house for furnishings and basic start-up costs.
Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly
Oxford Houses thrive under radar of addiction community
April 07, 2008
In the addiction and recovery communities, one might assume that any entity with more than 1,200 sites, 10,000 recovering addicts under its watch and a battery of favorable research findings would widely be considered a field juggernaut. Yet the organization that matches this description, the Oxford House family of recovery homes, surprisingly has maintained a low profile nationally even as it has become an important aftercare presence in many states.
Perhaps this has been a result of the striking differences between Oxford House's approach and that of most other recovery organizations, and most treatment centers for that matter. While many other organizations in the addiction community depend largely on government assistance and therefore retain a public profile in order to gain their equal share of funding, the history of Oxford House has been marked by self-reliance and a general avoidance of government involvement. The ratio of resident to organizational funding support for Oxford House's self-governing recovery homes stands at nearly 30 to 1.
"There is something important about 10,000 people living in this way," Leonard A. Jason, Ph.D., director of DePaul University's Center for Community Research and researcher on numerous studies examining the Oxford House approach, told ADAW. "These homes support the notion that having networks of peers is the best predictor of long-term sobriety."
Jason first became aware of Oxford Houses in 1991 after a rare public presentation of the family of recovery homes: a "60 Minutes" segment that the organization's charismatic director, Paul Molloy, says generated 4,000 phone calls from viewers. Interestingly, that segment aired only once and Oxford House generally has operated outside the national spotlight ever since.
Yet that might be changing, as more addiction treatment centers begin to integrate aftercare planning fully into what they consider the essential elements of their work with clients. In addition, Jason said, a new book entitled Rescued Lives: The Oxford House Approach to Substance Abuse (published by Taylor & Francis) will be out this spring.
The Oxford way
Oxford House began in 1975 after Molloy, who had worked on Capitol Hill as Republican counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee and worked on major initiatives such as the establishment of Amtrak, found himself living on the streets of Washington, D.C. He had spent time in psychiatric wards as a result of his alcoholism and the tumultuous breakup of his marriage, and eventually found his way to a Silver Spring, Md., halfway house program with professional management and a maximum six-month stay for residents.
Molloy and his fellow residents in recovery observed that in the time they lived at the halfway house, 11 of the 12 men who had been forced to leave after reaching the six-month stay limit ended up relapsing. The group wanted to come up with a better model, and thanks to a loan from an Alcoholics Anonymous member they were able to rent the home and manage it as a self-governing entity.
They initially charged residents $25 a week to live there, then raised that to $35 (an even $5 a day). Soon the group had enough money to rent a second home in the area for more recovering men, and the Oxford House movement began. Programs for women, including those allowing women to live with their children, would come later.
"Other houses began to worry because we were doing it with no staff," Molloy told ADAW. "People wondered, `How would we police the houses?' But when we threw the first person out, that gave us credibility. When you're living together, you know when someone relapses."
The gender-separate residences operate on a charter system governed by the national organization based in Maryland, ensuring that there is some consistency in the operations of homes that use the Oxford House name. Molloy explained that a residence can call itself an Oxford House if it houses at least six people, is democratically run by the residents themselves, and agrees to remove from the home anyone found to be using substances.
"The homes receive a conditional charter at first, and then within six months they apply for a permanent charter, for which they need two recommendation letters from AA members in the community," Molloy said. "Applicants always end up getting a charter because we teach them how to do it. And we've had only one charter revocation in more than 30 years."
The homes are technically considered recovery support residences--no treatment services per se take place at the locations. 12-Step meetings are a prominent part of the lives of residents, although Molloy said the national organization dropped an earlier charter requirement that all Oxford House residents engage in 12-Step attendance.
He said some neighborhood groups have attempted to block Oxford House operations using legal limits on the number of adults who can live under one roof. But a 1995 Supreme Court decision on a Fair Housing Act case involving individuals with substance use problems has allowed Oxford House to withstand every legal challenge to its operations, he said.
"These homes turn out to be pretty good neighbors," said De-Paul University's Jason. "We have found that when you live close to an Oxford House, you end up having a positive feeling about people in recovery."
The first Oxford House outside of the Washington, D.C., area opened in Bethlehem, Pa., and organizers thereafter realized that the model had national applicability. The homes tend to be clustered in certain states and regions; Molloy said the states with the most Oxford House residences including Washington (with nearly 200 homes), Oregon and North Carolina.
"The good news is we have 1,284 houses," he said. "The bad news is there needs to be 70,000 houses."
Some government support
Molloy, who ended up remarrying his wife after being divorced for 13 years, explained that in the 1980s, the Reagan administration began to take an interest in what Oxford House was accomplishing. But leaders of the movement generally balked at any attempt to create a closer relationship between government and their entity.
The homes do not receive any federal grant money, but in about 14 states there are revolving loan funds that the recovery homes can tap into to support operations, Molloy said. The operations are still largely self-supporting: In their most recent budget year, Oxford Houses overall spent about $1.6 million as an organization while residents themselves contributed $57 million to maintain the homes, all of which are rented.
In Illinois, state officials have reinstated a revolving loan program for group homes that was discontinued in 2003 partly because of a perceived lack of outcome data supporting the homes' approaches. State officials in reversing their decision cited two 2006 studies conducted by Jason and colleagues that found abstinence rates of 65 to 87 percent among recovering substance users living in self-governed recovery homes.
"The DePaul study provided an evidence-based approach toward the re-establishment of the group home living initiative," Fran Bassett, project manager for the revolving fund initiative managed by the Illinois Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, said in a statement released last month by DePaul.
Linkages to treatment
With addiction treatment centers engaging in more systematic aftercare planning with clients, there are opportunities in many areas of the country to attempt to link clients with Oxford Houses as an aftercare residence. The self-governing structure of the Oxford House operations does present some special challenges, however.
Jon Markle, a substance abuse counselor with the Wake County Human Services agency in North Carolina, told ADAW that while he has not placed a client in an Oxford House residence for a couple of years, he has had very good experiences with the residences in the past. Matching clients to suitable residences poses a particular challenge for Markle, who works with homeless clients with multiple needs in a program funded with McKinney Act dollars under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
"There have been a couple of houses where I have found a fantastic fit," Markle said. "I was working with one woman who had schizoaffective disorder and crack dependence, and she stayed in an Oxford House for about three years." (The typical length of stay in an Oxford is around a year.)
But because the programs are self-governing and the composition of that governing body changes as residents leave and others enter, a home that might have been a good fit for a particular client profile in the past may not continue to be, Markle explained. "The houses change depending on the personality of the people in them," he said. "Six months or a year from now I'll have to deal with a different set of people in a particular house."
Markle said there also are recovery homes with professional management in his area, and those have been a viable option for some of his clients as well. Oxford House as an organization has tended to avoid making comparisons of its homes to recovery homes with professional staffs, although Molloy believes the latter operations offer a much different dynamic.
"In none of the other cases do the inmates run the asylum," he said. "I've seen people try to make money off this concept, and that creates a `we/them' thing between the managers and the residents. We eliminated that with the democratic voting."
Molloy added that he thinks the concept could be on the verge of a national boom. "About 20 percent of our residents at any one time are [military] veterans, and there will be a huge crop of veterans coming back," he said.
For more information about Oxford House, visit www.oxfordhouse.org.
A Get-It-Done Approach to Recovery
Sobriety - At an Oxford House, addicts on the mend make and enforce the rules and can live with their kids
August 07, 2007
By Michelle Cole
Brenna Bedsaul kicked back on the plaid couch on an August afternoon, watching Animal Planet with her housemates and looking ahead to an evening's softball practice. Then the talk turned, as it sometimes does, to Bedsaul's struggle with drugs.
"Meth brought me to my knees," says Bedsaul, 28. "My family had kind of written me off -- which you can't blame. I don't know what my life would be like without this place."
"This place" -- a gray and white duplex near Mount Tabor -- is an Oxford House, one of more than 150 houses in Oregon offering alcoholics and drug addicts a safe and sober place to pull their lives back together. Unlike typical recovery programs with professional counselors and lots of oversight, at an Oxford House, the residents set the rules and police themselves. That approach has made it one of the cheapest and most successful drug recovery programs in the country.
Affiliated with an international nonprofit, Oxford works through peer support and group discipline. It operates with few government dollars and -- usually -- little public attention.
That was true in Oregon, until late last month when headlines focused on a Salem man accused of
abandoning his two children in a parked car in the middle of the night. The man, Blaine Danley, had stayed in an Oxford House with his boys for a time.
Some people were shocked to hear about children living under the same roof as recovering addicts. Yet today in Oregon an estimated 225 children live with a parent in an Oxford House.
Bedsaul and her 7-year-old son, Zachary, share a large upstairs room for $400 a month. He has the twin bed in the corner with the glow-in-the-dark bedspread.
Eight-year-old Aaron Cyganik also lives in the house with his mother, Laura Neumann. It feels like one big family, he says. Still, he says, "I don't always know the new people."
The first Oxford House was started in 1975 in Silver Spring, Md. Founder Paul Molloy was a former staff attorney for the Senate Commerce committee who says he was an alcoholic who drank two fifths of Canadian Club a day. When the county moved to close the halfway house where Molloy was living, he and other residents decided they could pool their money and run it themselves without government bureaucrats or professional counselors.
The model worked so well that the American Psychological Association selected Molloy and Oxford House for a community mental health award in 2004.
Today, there are Oxford Houses in 42 states. The federal government offers loans to anyone who wants to start an Oxford House -- but the money must be paid back once the house is leased, furnished and occupied.
Here in Oregon, state officials working in child welfare and addictions programs at the Oregon Department of Human Services have only positive things to say.
In fact, the state spends about $140,000 a year for two outreach coordinators charged with establishing more Oxford Houses in Oregon. That number will grow after the 2007 Legislature agreed to spend more money for three additional outreach workers -- part of an effort to make drug treatment more accessible to parents and to keep their children out of state foster care.
"I was skeptical at first . . . but they have amazing results," says Vicki Skryha, manager of housing and homeless services for Oregon Addictions and Mental Health division.
Unlike traditional treatment programs where outreach workers, counselors and others run the programs, recovering addicts living in an Oxford House govern one another.
The houses are segregated by gender and are not open to convicted sex offenders. Residents at each
house interview and vote to approve prospective members. They elect officers and agree to follow strict rules.
For example, at the Ridgegate Oxford House in Gladstone, women residents must be employed at least 32 hours a week, divide a list of household chores and stick to a curfew.
"When I first moved here, I was extremely rebellious. I broke every rule you can break. What I haven't done is relapse," says Jessica Westfall, 20, who says she was 9 years old when she started abusing her mother's prescription painkillers and was a "full-fledged meth addict" by age 15.
Anyone who uses drugs or alcohol at an Oxford House is subject to immediate expulsion. Those who are expelled are not allowed to come back until the others say they can -- usually after completing a treatment program.
"If someone uses, they have to leave. We exist to support the group, not the individual," says Barbara Perez, 43, whose drug past includes alcohol, cocaine, meth and heroine.
Perez says she was shooting-up in her car parked in downtown Portland on Thanksgiving Day 1999 when police took her to jail for the last time.
Her road to recovery included two years in an Oxford House. Today, Perez proudly says she continues to be sober. She's also happily married, and the mother of a 21/2-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl.
"We're not saying it works for everyone," says Leonard Jason, a psychology professor and director of the Center for Community Research at DePaul University, who has spent 15 years evaluating the Oxford House model.
However, Jason was impressed with his study that followed a group of addicts two years after leaving a
Chicago-area Oxford House.
About 70 percent remained sober, he says. Another group, not Oxford House residents, saw about 35 percent remain sober.
Halve the rate for people having heart attacks or migraine headaches, and it would be all over the news, Jason says. "If I told you we had group housing that could lead to doubling positive outcomes, nobody cares. It's just recovery homes."
Some people are surprised to learn that Oxford Houses are located in some of the nicest areas.
Neighbors were wary when Tim Gallaugher wanted to start a men's Oxford House at a home with a large backyard and pool near River Road in outer Southeast Portland. But Gallaugher, 43, a granite craftsman and recovering alcoholic told them: "You'd rather have these guys sober and living here than out using and running around the neighborhood."
Unlike other programs for recovering addicts, there is no time limit at an Oxford House. People can stay as long as they want -- as long as they follow the rules.
That's fine with Bedsaul, who has lived in the Oxford House near Mount Tabor since February. She lived in an Oxford House that did not allow children before that.
"I don't have a plan to leave anytime soon," she says. "We have a good school district here. I love the girls I live with. We are a family."
Community-Based Homes Seem to Help Addicts
By Randolph E. Schmid
Associated Press - August 18, 2005
WASHINGTON - Self-supporting group homes have high success rates in helping individuals recover from alcoholism and drug addiction, researchers from DePaul University reported Thursday.
A pair of studies being presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association found success rates of 65 percent to 87 percent for the homes.
The benefits of communal living include a lower relapse rate and help keep individuals as productive members of society, reported lead author Leonard A. Jason. In addition, he noted, the houses operate at little or no cost to the taxpayer.
Jason and co-authors studied residents of Oxford House, a network of group homes across the country serving recovering addicts. Each resident pays a share of the costs and can be evicted if detected using drugs or alcohol.
One study compared 75 people who went into an Oxford House after detoxification with 75 others who went to halfway houses or returned to the community. After two years 65 percent of the Oxford House residents were still clean and sober compared to 31 percent of the others, Jason said.
The second study began with a national sample of 897 Oxford House residents. After a year 607 remained in the study and, of those, 87 percent reported they were still off alcohol and drugs.
Those who dropped out of the study had previously reported higher rates of drug and alcohol use than those who stayed in, the report noted. It said those who dropped out were younger and had spent less time in the home than those who remained.
The program seemed to work equally well for men and women, the researchers said, and there were no significant differences among racial groups in the program.
The Oxford House program was founded 30 years ago in Montgomery County, Md., and currently has 1,123 houses across the country and in Canada and Australia. While some states have loan programs to help get houses started, each house is otherwise self-supporting and is governed by its own residents.
Oxford House Taking Charge: A zero-tolerance haven for recovering addicts
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer
From the outside, nothing distinguishes the one-story brick house from others on this quiet west Vancouver street.
But inside, something extraordinary is happening. For the first time, nine women, all recovering addicts and some just weeks from living on the street, are taking charge of their lives.
At 21 Oxford Houses scattered across Clark County and 123 in the state of Washington, men and women are making the hard transition from treatment for drug or alcohol addiction to life on the outside. Oxford House, says outreach worker Judy Maxwell, provides "the missing link in the recovery system."
Last December, the first successful Oxford House in the nation for deaf recovering addicts opened in Vancouver.
Members of the network of clean-and-sober houses govern themselves, share household expenses and offer each other moral support. But they extend zero tolerance to housemates who relapse; violators have 15 minutes to pack up their things and leave -- no excuses, no exceptions. Knowing that keeps most residents on the narrow path of sobriety.
Research shows that this program combining mutual support and tough love works -- not that it's always easy.
Washington pays $100,000 for three outreach workers who help recovering addicts find and set up new houses statewide. That support, the most generous offered by any state, helps explain why Washington also has the most Oxford Houses of any state.
Ken Stark, director of the state Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, calls it a good investment because it provides recovering addicts with low-cost housing in good neighborhoods at no direct cost to the public.
"Safe, affordable housing is a key part of being able to sustain their recovery when people get out of treatment," Stark said. "They don't have to commit crimes to get money for drugs, they aren't bouncing in and out of hospital emergency rooms."
Because Oxford House members get involved in community, chapter, statewide and national organizations, the program also builds community leaders, he said.
Oxford House is not for everyone. "It puts you under constant scrutiny," Stark said. "Everyone knows your business. But it's a whole lot better for someone in the early stages of recovery than isolating yourself in an apartment" with no system of support.
Weekly mandatory house meetings can get contentious as residents hash out issues from house rule violations to overdue rent payments to differing standards of household hygiene. But the payoff -- the steadfast support each resident gives and receives -- is worth it, residents say.
That support helps Arlene Meyer, a recovering methamphetamine addict, cope with the estrangement from her three daughters. "It makes my heart full and helps me bear the pain of not being with my children," she says. "If I got kicked out, I don't know where I would go."
One of the heaviest calls Oxford House members have to make is the decision to evict someone from the house. At Parkside Oxford House in east Vancouver, six men meet on the Sunday after Thanksgiving to discuss whether to evict John, who has threatened his roommate, violated house rules by smoking indoors and exhibited hostile behavior toward other members. (Many participants at Oxford House meetings requested that their last names not be published.)
Ken, the roommate, says John "is just looking for a fight. ... I don't feel safe in my own room." He has tried to handle the situation by sleeping on the couch, he says. But John's attitude has become such a source of tension that the house can no longer ignore it.
"You have to put principles over personalities at Oxford House," Kelley advises Ken. "You need to bring these issues to the house."
Because John has failed to show up for the house meeting, an emergency meeting will be held when he gets home to make the eviction official.
Tony Perkins, who helped start Parkside Oxford House in July, recalls evicting a member at another house who came home drunk. "In the middle of the night he crawled through an open window. I found him huddled in a closet. It was cold and raining, he didn't have a dime to his name and the buses had stopped running. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. But our motto is, 'The house comes first.'"
A successful track record
Since its founding in 1975, the Oxford House program has helped thousands of recovering addicts launch new lives. A 1987 survey of 1,280 current and former Oxford House residents found that 80 percent had maintained their sobriety or stayed off drugs.
Now the prestigious National Institutes of Health is funding a 30-month, $6 million study of the program. Conducted by psychologists at DePaul University in Chicago, the study is tracking 1,000 recovering addicts who left treatment. Half moved into Oxford Houses; half found other transitional housing. Eighteen months into the study, 67 percent of Oxford House graduates had remained clean and sober; only 16 percent of those in the control group had stayed clean.
Most Oxford House residents have a history of failed attempts to stay clean and sober in other settings. In 1998, 30 percent of Oxford House residents in Washington reported three to five failed attempts to stay clean; 20 percent had relapsed 10 or more times before entering the Oxford House program.
Oxford House founder Paul Malloy said the preliminary findings of the new NIH study validate one of the program's key principles: "The only cure for alcoholism and drug abuse long-term is behavior change."
The Oxford House movement grew out of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step philosophy. Because their sobriety is still a fragile thing, most residents attend 12-step meetings several times a week.
On the patio at Columbia River Oxford House, during a smoke break before the house meeting, Arlene reads a daily meditation inspired by the 16th-century English poet John Donne: "No man is an island entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. ...
"Our problems seem so singular; we often feel alone with our struggles," she reads. "But no struggle facing us is free from the influence of other people and their struggle. ... We are not alone, forgotten, unimportant to the destiny of others."
As the women head inside for the meeting, The Doors blast from a stereo in Janis Rose's room. A decal stuck on the open bedroom door says, "Let Go and Let God."
Janis, the house president, calls the meeting to order with the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the courage to change the things I can."
There's a motion to cut a $200 check for supplies, a motion to rent a rug shampooer, a motion to fine several residents for violations of house rules.
Toni Oates, one of two deaf women at the house, is behind on her rent, which is grounds for eviction. "Today I have cash," she signs to a volunteer interpreter. "I have to go to Safeway to get the money order."
Four-month-old Candice, who has been lying on the living room floor, suddenly rolls onto her back for the first time. Everything stops while this milestone is celebrated.
A long discussion ensues about how to divide the chores now that four new residents have moved in. A motion passes to adopt an upstairs/downstairs system on a one-week trial basis.
More serious issues surface: The need to respect quiet time when children are sleeping, to not slam doors, to not leave outside doors open when children are inside.
"Someone left the house and didn't close the door," Kelly says. Janis' son, Freedom, ran outside; he could have run away.
Sena, attending her first house meeting, is uncomfortable with the tension.
"Can we move on?" she asks.
"This is what the meetings are for, Sena," Janis retorts.
Hurt feelings and frayed tempers are obvious as the women come together in a circle and recite the Lord's Prayer to close the meeting.
Toni, who came to Oxford House six months ago after treatment for cocaine addiction, says the stress of the meetings is a small price to pay for the support and spiritual growth she has experienced.
"If it weren't for Oxford House I probably would have relapsed after treatment," she says. "We may have stress at the meetings, but that's part of life. On the outside I will have stresses, too."
A fresh start
At 4 a.m. on the day he was released from the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, James "Trey" Brant III, juggling two boxes of clothes, some paperwork and his prison TV set, caught a bus to Portland. There he transferred to a C-Tran bus, then transferred again in downtown Vancouver. It was dark when he arrived at Parkside Oxford House on Northeast 138th Avenue and knocked on the door. His new housemates let him in.
"They said, 'This is your room.' They asked me, 'Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?' "
He was home.
Brant served 43 months for distribution of methamphetamine. When he was dealing, he always had money. Three months after arriving at Parkside Oxford House, he is flat broke and looking for a job. He says he has never been happier. Soon after, he lands a job at Wal-Mart.
He got into Oxford House through a new program in which the Department of Corrections releases pre-screened inmates directly from state prisons into houses that vote to accept them.
Tony Perkins, who chairs the state Oxford House incarceration committee, says recovering addicts straight out of treatment "often try to push the limits. But we have found that people coming out of prison obey all the rules."
Mary Arden, a defense attorney in Clark County Drug Court, already was familiar with Oxford House before she became an Oxford House landlord.
"We use Oxford House to help transition people from treatment to the community," she said. "I knew from drug court that Oxford is a very supportive, clean environment."
Arden owns a beautifully restored historic house in Vancouver's uptown area. "I had ordinary renters for a while," she said. "It was one of those things where the light bulb goes off in your head."
She spent $15,000 remodeling the basement, updating the wiring and adding touches like mirrors, rugs and coat racks.
"I think it's really important that people who are coming out of treatment go somewhere that makes them feel good," she said. "These women usually leave treatment with absolutely nothing."
The 10 women living at Historic Flynn Oxford House are dream tenants, Arden said. They pay the rent on time, and she gets more in rent than she could expect from a single family.
As for upkeep, "They run that place like an army. They are very eager to please the landlord. If I call and say I would like the back patio swept every week, they make that part of their chore list."
The practice of siting Oxford Houses in residential neighbors is guaranteed by the 1989 federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for local governments to discriminate against houses that provide congregate living for the disabled.
Outreach worker Judy Maxwell calls Oxford House members "the best people you can live next to." Oxford Houses are neither treatment centers nor halfway houses, she points out; most require 30 days of sobriety before new residents can move in.
Terry Sackrider, who has an 11-year-old son, had misgivings when she learned that 10 recovering addicts were about to become her neighbors at the new Parkside Oxford House.
"I know it's a great program, but it was just a little bit of a shock," she said.
Then Perkins, one of the original residents, came over and introduced himself. Her fears evaporated.
"This is a group of people who are working together trying to make changes in their lives," Sackrider said. "I feel more secure with Tony and the people who are here now than I did with the family that lived here before."
Maxwell escaped the clutches of meth when she was 40.
"I was the biggest meth head around," she said. "Having my first grandchild changed me."
She greets her old meth buddy, Scott Moore, with a hug at Parkside Oxford House. Moore recalls visiting Maxwell at another Oxford House while he was still using.
"I felt very uncomfortable," he said. "I wanted to leave. But I knew if Judy could do it, I could do it."
Doing jail time and knowing that he was causing his parents pain nudged Moore into treatment.
"I was spent," he said. "You start looking at your age. I was looking at 40."
Sharing a house with nine other men does produce tensions, Moore said. To clear the air, at the end of house meetings, each member checks in with the group and describes his week.
"It gives the house the information people need to help each other."
Despite their differences, he said, Oxford House residents all share this one thing: "We all have a common ground of wanting to stay clean and sober to fall back on."
Oxford House Taking Charge: Sign Oxford House serves deaf people
Sunday, December 14, 2003
By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer
When Ronald Pendleton cranks up the stereo volume at the Oxford House he shares with three roommates, Ice-T's bass-heavy rap erupts in a burst of eardrum-busting, window-rattling, vibrating sound.
He is not trying to annoy the neighbors; after 10 p.m., the music stops. But he and his roommates can't hear the music. They're deaf. They need to feel it in their bones.
Fifteen months ago, there was no music in Pendleton's life. When he showed up at the Northwest Deaf Addiction Center in east Vancouver, Pendleton was toothless, ashen-faced, shivering and down to 100 pounds.
Too weak to walk more than a short distance, he couldn't read or even process information, said Jackie Hyman, the center's director.
"I didn't know if he would make it," recalled Mary Jacobs, a counselor at the center.
He did, and now he is president of Sign Oxford House, the first successful Oxford House for deaf people in the United States.
Pendleton, 46, grew up deaf in Newark, N.J. He started using drugs at age 14. For years he freebased heroin and cocaine. Last year, in a state of physical and emotional collapse, he left the streets of Newark and entered a detox center in Minnesota. A month later, he was admitted to the Deaf Addiction Center.
"Eight of my friends died," Pendleton recalled as Hyman interpreted in the tidy living room of Sign Oxford House. "That's when I made a decision to save my life. I was crying all the time. I missed my life."
Today his weight is up to 155 pounds. He wears his graying hair in dreadlocks, attends a 12-step meeting every day and helps to keep the house spotless.
Sign Oxford House opened last December in Vancouver's Shumway neighborhood. All its members went through treatment at the Deaf Addiction Center, which opened in April 2001 in a former long-term care facility for AIDS patients. The center provides culturally sensitive residential, all-day and outpatient group therapy to deaf men and women.
In part because Vancouver is home to the Washington School for the Deaf, Clark County has the highest per capita number of deaf residents in the state. Just two and a half years after its opening, the Deaf Addiction Center draws clients from around the country and has helped to make Clark County a magnet for services to deaf addicts.
Three years ago, there was one 12-step meeting with signing available in the Portland-Vancouver area. Now at least one 12-step meeting accessible to the deaf is held in the metro area every night of the week.
Before the addiction center opened, deaf addicts seeking treatment here had almost a 100 percent failure rate, said Cleve Thompson, director of drug and alcohol programs for Clark County.
"Their biggest complaints were that they were isolated, there weren't appropriate services for them in treatment, and they didn't have a support system after they got out of treatment," Thompson said.
Deaf people have slightly higher rates of addiction than the population at large, said Hyman. "Part of it is their isolation, part of it is the communications breakdown."
Hyman, a recovering addict herself, taught deaf students in Seattle for many years. Deaf friends encouraged her to get training as a drug counselor. Three years ago, Thompson recruited her to start a residential treatment program in Vancouver for deaf people. It is one of only five in the nation.
Hyman quickly saw the need for clean and sober housing for clients leaving treatment. She found the modest one-story house and furnished it with garage-sale sofas, tables and chairs.
Recovering deaf addicts need other recovering deaf addicts to help them break through the isolation, Hyman said. In a hearing world, "they have no way to interpret social situations and day-to-day interactions." They miss cues and can't easily communicate the challenges of sobriety, from opening their first bank account to weathering the holidays.
"If you can do it with people you can communicate with, people who know your culture and your language, that allows you to sustain your recovery," Hyman said.
The majority of today's deaf adults grew up in homes where their parents could not sign, she said.
"They had a hard time expressing themselves. When you don't have coping skills, alcohol and drugs are the great equalizers."
Justin Ridling, a fresh-faced 28-year-old who aspires to be a chef on a cruise ship, turned to drugs as a teenager to assuage his loneliness. Hard of hearing rather than deaf, he learned to sign so he could live at Oxford House.
"I was picked on most of my life," he said. "I followed people who would welcome me. I went to bars to meet people who didn't care about my deafness. I chose the wrong path and it was hard to get off it."
Starting at age 15, Ridling used pot, pills, alcohol and then heroin. He tried drug court an alternative to incarceration that helps recovering addicts get into treatment, find housing and seek employment but it didn't work for him. "I didn't have a support system," he said.
At one point he stayed clean for 10 months, then relapsed after he looked up his old using friends.
"Thank God for my counselor," Ridling said. "She said I should go to Oxford House."
At first he didn't like the discipline and the introspection.
"I didn't want to stay with it, I wanted to be done with it. I thought being sober was boring. But when you get sober you get more in touch with your emotions. I love nature now. I have a higher power in my life."
Electronic communication has been a godsend for deaf addicts. Though Sign Oxford House operates on the same model as all other Oxford Houses, it does have some special features, including two donated computers with Internet access. Communicating with other deaf addicts throughout the country by e-mail, residents build their own support networks. They send electronic instant messages to friends. All the residents have two-way pagers, which let them summon help quickly in emergencies.
"The deaf use instant messaging a lot," Hyman said. "At meetings, they ask for e-mail instead of a phone number."
Sign Oxford House can accommodate six men. In early December, after some turnover, it had four. Pendleton, Ridling and Joey Mclallen are all original residents.
"The three of us, we're the foundation of the house," Pendleton said. "We keep it going."
Even in sign language, there's no mistaking the pride.
A Pulitzer Community Newspaper
January 2, 1995
Struggling down road to recovery DePaul helps moms stay straight
By Meg McSherry
Brett Jones has a new home now, on a quiet street and it’s filled with love and promise.
But the 10-year-old still nearly bursts with emotion at the mean thought of the old days, when he lived in a t dark apartment on the West Side, wore dirty and wrinkled shirts to school, and watched his mother fall deeper and deeper into the grip of drugs.
"Is it better now?" he is asked.
Brett fidgets, fumbles for words and stares at the ceiling with his big brown eyes. Then he just lets go. Tears stream from his face.
"I'm just remembering," he says.
Brett's mother, now clean for several weeks but still struggling to hang on, is apologetic.
"I didn't realize through my addiction how much I took away from him," rays Geraldine Sullivan, wiping tears from her cheeks.
Recovering from drug and alcohol abuse is a painful, emotional process. But Sullivan and her son have more hope now because of their recent move to an Oxford House for recovering addicts and their children in Marquette Park.
The Mozart Oxford House, 7314 S. Mozart St., Chicago, was opened by DePaul University professor who believes it can be the key to a better life for mother looking to start anew.
Rather than strict disciplinary approach of many long-term drug recovery programs, Oxford Houses rely on residents to set up their house rules and a support network for keeping each other drug-free.
Residents usually move in after they’ve completed drug treatment programs and are searching for permanent homes.
More than 500 Oxford House group homes have opened across the country since 1975, when the first one opened in Maryland for recovering alcoholic men. There are 14 homes in Illinois, 12 for men and two for women. The Mozart Oxford House is the state's first to accept children.
“This is a really important house," said Leonard Jason a psychology professor at DePaul who helped win grant money to open the Mozart home. "We think there's a need for hundreds of these houses"
Residents of the Mozart house - five women and three children under age 10 - believe it May be their best chance yet for permanent recovery. But they're not naive about it. Many have been in and out of treatment programs for years. Several became addicts in their teens and have been struggling to break five from drug dependency for decades. They realize it may be a long, hard road before they’ll feel confident that life without drugs is doable.
Cheryl Dutton, 39, was homeless and near death before she agreed to enter a drug treatment program several months ago in Chicago. She has cirrhosis, a chronic liver disease brought on by alcohol abuse, and pancreatitis. When she was initially admitted to the hospital doctors didn't believe she would pull through, she says.
She's been sober for about two months, and is living day by day. The Oxford House is the perfect place for her, Dutton says, because of the constant support and concern from other women and the stability and peace that the home provides. Without it, she may have ended up on the streets because family members had grown frustrated with her.
“This place allows you the time to work on inner issues. Now I can do some real digging and soul- searching. You've got to learn to love yourself to get better," she said. "And the women in this house tell me I don't need to punish myself anymore."
Still Dutton faces some huge challenges. Her education stopped at fourth grade. She's been on her own and addicted to alcohol since she was 13. She's still struggling with severe emotional problems.
"It is work ... but I have people I love here," she said.
Brett's mom has a better education than Dutton and a clothing design business, but faces her own struggles. She was evicted from her West Side apartment before she decided to give a treatment program a try.
Now that she's sober, Sullivan must face the guilt she feels, particularly over the way she treated her son when she was using drugs. Her neglect us hurt her son deeply, she said.
This Christmas, Brett was with relatives out-of-state. Family members bought the plane ticket months ago when they weren't any if his mother would be sober enough to care for him. Days before the trip, Brett couldn't stop crying because he didn't want to go. Neither could his mother, after seeing the pain in her son’s eyes.
"We have real issues we have to deal with. This is real stuff," she said.
Another recovering addict, Barbara Everett, 48, watched the mother and son scene with recognition. She had been through the same emotions with her own sons.
"I am standing here but my heart is on my knees," she said.
As DePaul's Jason sees it, the Mozart house's success depends on the women themselves - as it should.
“We've got to start providing people with resources so they can help themselves,” he said.
Oxford House is a promising alternative to traditional group homes for addicts, which are run under strict rules and with the supervision of a professional director, said Sandra Herron, a recruiter hired by DePaul to get the Mozart House off the ground.
Oxford Houses were founded on the belief that recovering addicts need to rebuild their lives by taking on an increasing level of responsibility in a supportive environment. Residents set their own rules, interview potential new members as a "family” and make democratic decisions about the operation of the house.
DePaul matched a $16,000 grant from the Chicago Community Trust to pay for Herron. The Illinois Department of Alcohol and Substance Abuse provided a $4,000 stipend for the first month’s rent and security deposit.
Herron interviewed applicants and will live with residents for three months to help get them on their feet. After that, she’ll move out and try to open another Oxford House. While Herron will check on the women periodically, they’ll be responsible for their own lives after February.
Oxford House members elect officers, pay their own share of the rent, and are expected to go back to school or hold jobs. Different homes can set up their own rules, but all live under the most important regulation - that residents stay drug and alcohol-free.
If other residents suspect someone has relapsed, that person is evicted.
While universities are not normally in the business of launching social service programs, Jason says DePaul leaders felt Oxford House was too promising of a concept to be left untouched.
In many cases, women coming out of residential drug treatment programs have trouble finding a suitable place to live, Jason says. Few can afford to live on their own, especially if they've lost their jobs or been evicted from their apartments, and many group homes offer only short-term residency.
"We (society) haven't been very good at developing long-term places allowing people to form a community, get connected and get hope and the ability to stay sober," Jason said.
He says he's amazed that government leaders don't open more Oxford Houses.
"The lack of vision among key people everywhere has been absolutely astounding to me," Jason said. "I can't understand why people don't see that there really is such a need for this and that it solves so many problems ... It's such a powerful model"
For Everett, 48, Oxford House has taught her a lesson she didn't learn in other recovery programs.
"When I first went into recovery, I thought it was about not using. I was wrong. It's about change," she said. "And I'm grateful to be here."
The Seattle Times
April 17, 1994, Sunday
By Carey Quan Gelernter
Who wants to read about substance abuse?
Won't it be the same old story - taxpayer money spent on social services to turn drug addicts and alcoholics around - only the problem seems to get worse?
But wait, says clinical and community psychologist Leonard Jason. After two years of checking it out, the DePaul University researcher says he's found something that really works, "an amazing grassroots phenomenon," he says, that's been accomplished almost entirely with volunteers at almost no cost to taxpayers.
It's called Oxford House, and it has grown from one self-run, self-supporting recovery house in the Washington, D.C., area in 1975, to more than 500 in 35 states in 1994. In Washington state, the first house opened in August 1990; today, there are 28.
Oxford House's concept is deceptively simple. Self-run means no professionals, such as counselors or house managers, and a pure democracy. Every resident has one vote, all participate in running the house, with officers rotating every six months. That eliminates "us against them" sentiments and the addict's traditional resentment of authority, fosters responsibility and, as residents' leadership and self-management skills grow, self-confidence.
Every resident must pay his own way; established houses help new houses get started. Unlike traditional half-way houses, with often-short time limits, residents can stay as long as they like, as long as they pay their rent and follow the number one rule: sobriety.
Relapse means automatic expulsion. (They can reapply, but only after 30 days of sobriety.)
"An incredible system of health care delivery," Jason calls it.
"A mission and a movement" is the description by founder J. Paul Molloy - a former drunk, former wife-beater, and former Republican counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee. (It was by dint of his Capitol Hill political connections that, in 1988, a bill was passed corralling states into setting up $ 100,000 revolving loan funds to start up new houses along the Oxford House model. After that, expansion took off.)
The big puzzle, says Jason, is why he is the only one researching the "why and how" of oxford House's apparent success - given a field where traditional treatment is expensive yet recidivism is high.
Not only that, he says, it's a potential model for solving other social problems, from homelessness to gangs. "No one thinks in these types of innovative ways because sometimes our preciousness as 'professionals' has been threatened. We need to look at grassroots efforts of people to solve their own problems," Jason says.
"We professionals are very good at changing behavior, but not very good at what community psychologists say we should be doing: create 'ecological systems' within the community that are supportive, protective, instill values."
Oxford House, he concludes, is just such an ecological system.
4 p.m. on a Sunday. All seven members of Oxford House, Oak Tree, are present for the weekly "business meeting," seated around their dining-table at the spotlessly clean, comfortable four-bedroom North End home.
Their ages range from 24 to 42. They are a maintenance supervisor, a mechanic, a warehouseman, a concrete carpenter, a dry wall helper, a dump truck driver, and an industrial salesman. Four are white, two are black, one is Latino.
All are former alcoholics and/or drug users whose number one goal is to stay clean and sober. Living at Oxford House is key to their plan.
As usual, much of the meeting is routine, conducted in dry parliamentary fashion. The men vote to buy two new fry pans, two laundry baskets, light bulbs and a can opener. The treasurer reports on their bank account ($ 1,087), bills, and fines levied ($ 50 to one resident for being late in rent, $ 20 for missing a business meeting; $ 5 for not doing an assigned chore).
But today emotions run higher than usual. Two members have just been kicked out. Dave was way late in his rent; he has shown up to explain. Mark was booted for relapsing to heroin use.
Dave, 29, a computer programmer analyst, seated in a corner, pleads his case. He disappeared without letting them know where he was, or when they could expect rent, because he was in the Snohomish County jail. Stopped for jaywalking, the police officer discovered his outstanding warrants for car theft and forgery - things he did before he went into treatment last June.
Every time he called Oxford House collect from jail, he got the answering machine. He finally got through, he said - to Mark, and he didn't know Mark had relapsed.
The guys consider the situation. They give Dave points for still staying clean and sober, still attending NA. "I don't want to see anybody on the street who is serious about not relapsing," says Guy Walker, 31, the mechanic, who has been here since June, when he left treatment.
Because Mark was paid up through the month, they have a little cushion. But Dave must come up with the $ 250 month's rent.
Walker tells him about a temporary-work agency around the corner, says he can make $ 35-$ 40 a day, mostly construction jobs. Walker knows, because in his own bad old days held do a temp job, then blow the money that night on booze. Dave promises he'll jump on the idea.
Oid Mattox, 38, the dump truck driver and mechanic, suggests another condition: Dave must get his legal problems settled, and report to everyone at the next meeting. Dave promises to do that. "My normal state is to run, go to another state. But I can't afford to do that. I'm making major changes, to clean up this wreckage I've made of my life.”
"Welcome back," a couple of the guys say, and everyone murmurs assent.
"Stay clean," adds president Mike Winsberry, the maintenance supervisor, at 42 their "elder statesman."
There is discussion of the condition of the house (the garage is a mess; three of the guys just rebuilt Winsberry's engine inside); getting new dead-bolts because Mark has the house key. Mattox talks about the presentations he has made at treatment centers, to recruit new members to Oxford Houses. He is supposed to be leaving to start a new Oxford House in Tacoma - experienced members are tapped to "seed" and lead new houses - but now that's in doubt; the, Tacoma landlord is asking too much money.
Plans are made for an upcoming workshop in Vancouver, where they can learn better ways to run the houses and fulfill the different officer roles, and for a potluck at the Mercer Island house with founder Molloy, who will be in town.
They close with "reflections. 11 Each man shares how his week has gone:
A tiff with a boss, news that a younger brother is into drugs . . . excitement over joining a gym . . . anticipation of the Vancouver workshop. Several say they have been so busy with Oxford House-related work, they haven't had time to think about "using."
Dave talks about his great sense of relief of being accepted "home" again.
Out on the streets, "I was noticing homeless people more than I ever have. The misery. The drug abuse. I'm a guy with a college education, upper middle class family, it scared me. I'm grateful to you guys."
There is disappointment all around about Mark's relapse. Winsberry sums it up. "At least we salvaged one," he says, referring to Dave. "We can't save the world. You have to save yourself. It's bad out there."
He feels bad about Mark, he says, but Oak Tree is a strong house and will stay strong.
(In the almost-year long history of the house, Mark makes the third failure. one guy was kicked out after being picked up for a DWI, another for trying to start a fight - ironically, with Mark).
But the highlight is Walker's week. His dad was in town, for the first time in a year. When held last seen his dad, Walker had been homeless, and bummed $ 10 off him; he heard that his dad commented to others that "I was sucking off welfare and I'd never amount to anything."
But this time, he took his Dad out to dinner, drove him in his newly financed car, took him to the garage where he's now assistant manager and showed him his new tool box (held pawned his tools in his drunk days) and showed him oxford House - a place nicer than his family had ever lived in. His dad saw him give his little brother a dirt bike held just bought, and watched the boy's eyes light up. "Giving truly is the funniest thing on earth," Walker says.
Postscript: In the weeks following that business meeting, the industrial salesman is kicked out after it's discovered that he cashed some of the Oxford House checks at a tavern. And Winsberry decides that, after almost a year of residency, he's going to get a place of his own. He says he's learned as much as he can, and he's feeling ready to move on.
How it started
The guys are looking forward to meeting Molloy almost the way adherents of a religion look to a spiritual leader.
Molloy, 55, says he has steadfastly resisted any guru-type trappings: "I fight this personal cult thing. The worst thing was Synanon (the California-based drug-rehabilitation center that became embroiled in allegations of violence and harassment in the 1970s). Oxford House has gone out of its way to make sure that doesn't happen."
He says he doesn't collect his salary - his wife supports him. In town for a visit, he stays at the Bellevue Oxford House. Insurance against power hunger also prompts the democratic structure.
Still, it is clear that there would be no Oxford House without the vision and political savvy of Molloy. And, although he intended to step down as CEO in 1992, he quickly changed his mind, saying there was too much infighting and no one ready to take over.
It was hardly a career he envisioned back in 1975, when he and several others complained at their AA meeting that the county was closing the Maryland halfway house where they were living.
Molloy had just gone through treatment, his world having finally collapsed as his alcoholism worsened; he had been drinking two fifths of Canadian Club a day. His wife committed him briefly to a mental institution, and filed for divorce. His high-powered career as a congressional staff lawyer crashed.
One AA member told the complaining men to stop pitying themselves and rent their own house. Another AA member loaned them $ 750 to do it; six took up the plan.
They flourished. Their new house soon had a surplus of $ 1,200, and members voted to rent another house - to take care of all the applicants asking to move in.
After 2 1/2 years, Molloy moved out, but remained involved as a volunteer.
The network of Oxford Houses continued to grow, but really took off when Congress established the revolving loan fund. In his Republican soul, Molloy didn't like the government involvement, but says he realized there was no way to achieve major expansion without it. He still prefers to get funding from foundations.
He takes comfort that the only cost to taxpayers is the occasional house that fails without paying back its loan, and even then, fellow houses in the chapter .have been known to take it upon themselves to repay the money.
Plus, there are the salaries of organizers that some counties or states hire to set up a new house.
All houses are located in "good neighborhoods," according to Molloy. The idea is to bolster self-esteem and a sense of starting over, reduce temptation of easy access to drugs, and ensure that residents don't take up old habits and acquaintances in former haunts.
Each house is independent, with residents admitted by vote of the others. Clusters of houses are organized into chapters, which provide quality control and mutual support. Money collected from chapter dues can bail out houses in temporary trouble.
Since 1975, 6,000 men and women have lived in Oxford Houses, on average staying 15 months, although some stay for years. Today, there are 4,536 men and women living in an Oxford House.
Staying clean - the numbers
The tricky part is the statistics on recidivism. Professor Jason wants to do long-term tracking.
The organization cites about an 80 percent success rate, meaning that 20 percent relapse while in an Oxford House (21 percent in Washington state). But there is no tracking after they leave. The most comprehensive study done to date has found a 90 percent relapse rate within 18 months following treatment programs in general, although 2-3 percent get clean and sober every year after that, says Molloy. The main problem is that there is no support for the treated substance abuser after treatment, and they usually go back into the environment where their addiction took hold - a recipe for falling back into old habits and friends.
Not in my neighborhood
While it doesn't cost taxpayers a lot of money, Oxford House sometimes does exact a more difficult price: community acceptance.
While many neighbors have grown to accept the Oxford House presence in their midst, others have not. It's not that the houses stand out as being residences of "undesirables." Actually, residents go out of their way to be good neighbors, knowing the scrutiny they're under: rent is paid on time, houses are kept up, even rehabbed in some cases. But neighbors often fear that their own property values will slip.
Oxford House has fought lawsuits all over the country, including a city of Edmonds case that recently was decided by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, over where they can locate. At issue is the interpretation of the federal law governing the rights of the disabled to live where they choose.
Edmonds contends its zoning law - which prohibits more than five unrelated persons from living together in a single-family neighborhood - is exempt from the fair housing law. The American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Oxford House, along with the U.S. Justice Department, took the opposite view, and the Ninth Circuit agreed. It then sent back the question of whether Edmonds' zoning law violates rights of the disabled to the lower court.
That is one of two circuit decisions now standing in the country - the other is in Georgia, and reaches the opposite conclusion. Some believe the matter will have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
For now, though, the 9th Circuit prevails here, and the decision already has prompted other communities in the state, including Bellevue, to rethink restrictions on Oxford Houses.
Washington - a strong state
The Washington victory was fitting so far as Oxford House is concerned, given that this state has been a strong supporter. Three of the nine board members are Washingtonians, and many of the state's houses and volunteers are considered particularly effective.
Molloy attributes this to at least some state support for services for recovering addicts and alcoholics ("here maybe they're not on the front burner, but they're an item on the stove"). In some states, he says, the support is lacking because of the perception that substance abuse is "a black problem."
Here, state officials have lauded Oxford House. Some of the state managers say there are some who Oxford House isn't right for: those too young and immature, or a mentally ill addict who needs more intervention, may not be ready.
But, says Steve Freng, systems chief for the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services in King County: "Oxford House. . . is the most thoughtful, decentralized yet structured approach that I have seen in my career."
It hasn't all been a wild success story here, however.
Since 1990, three houses have failed: two in Everett and one in Bothell. State outreach coordinator Myrna Brown, the grandmotherly "den mother of Oxford House," says several problems were at work: the Bothell house was too far from transportation; in one of the Everett houses, the landlord kept upping the rent (they’ve, since learned to insist on leases); and she suspects Everett may have been too far from the rest of the houses in the chapter for proper support.
These days Brown - a recovering alcoholic, former executive director of the Republican Party in Multnomah County, former program director for the Oregon state Republican Party - has trained her focus on Thurston and Mason counties and may extend that to Grays Harbor. Her goal: to fill in the I-5 corridor. Eventually, the organization sees the need for 100 houses in the state. Freng says King County probably could use 20-30 (there are 10 now, and a total of 14 in King, Snohomish and Island counties).
Oxford House still is operating on a shoestring, though no longer all-volunteer. Nowadays there are 26 paid employees, 10 of those outreach workers who help open new houses.
Molloy says his goal is 10,000 houses open in the country by the year 2,000.
That would seem to require a miracle, but with the enthusiasm of its believer residents, who knows?
Hear Oid Mattox, a decorated Vietnam veteran brought to the brink of suicide by his cocaine habit before he joined Oxford House:
"Because of Oxford House I've seen people who have gotten good jobs, gotten back relationships with a child, given their parents hope. I've seen people jump up and hug you after you tell them their application has been accepted to an Oxford House. I've seen a lot of success stories. A lot of miracles."
A SURVEY OF WASHINGTON STATE MEN AND WOMEN IN OXFORD HOUSES SHOWS:
-- The majority have been in treatment before: 18 percent enter having just completed their first treatment, 19 percent have been in treatment more than 10 times. The average resident has been through detoxication without further treatment an average of 2.5 times, and in addition have been through treatment an average of twice.
-- Some 62 percent have been homeless during their addiction, an average of three-plus times; 13 percent were homeless at the time they entered Oxford House.
-- 75 percent have served jail time, the average length a little over nine months, the average number of prior arrests almost 6. No different in relapse rate was found between those who served jail time and those who didn't.
-- Educational level ranges from less than 8th grade to graduate college degrees, but the median is a little above high-school graduation.
-- They are 85 percent white, 9 percent black, I percent Hispanic, and 5 percent other.
-- Their median age is 36.
-- They attend an average of almost four meetings of AA or NA weekly.
-- They are divided roughly half and half between former drug addicts (49 percent) and recovering alcoholics (51 percent).
Apri1 18, 1994