Women's sober homes lacking in the Monadnock Region

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 7/16/2021 10:22:29 AM

For 30 years, Renae deMello has abused alcohol.

The Keene resident sought out treatment for the first time recently, hoping to get a handle on her addiction.

“I didn’t enjoy it anymore,” said deMello, 42. “I didn’t get out of it what I used to. I have no job, I have no permanent residency, I’m kind of like couch surfing ... It was the next right step as far as starting new.”

She entered into a 28-day residential program at a women’s facility in Antrim on June 2 for 28 days. As soon as she was done, she headed to The Doorway – a referral service hub on Railroad Street in Keene – to figure out how to keep up with her sobriety.

For most, sober housing is the next step. But in the Monadnock Region, there are no women’s homes.

“There’s nothing like that available in this area,” deMello said. “My therapist is in Keene, my (primary-care provider) is in Keene, so I wanted to stay in this area. My life is kind of based here.”

The closest women’s homes in New Hampshire are at least an hour away, including facilities in Manchester or on the Seacoast. Even if she could swing being that far, deMello said her anxiety wouldn’t do well with city living.

Recently, a co-ed sober home opened in Bennington, only 30 minutes from Keene. And while deMello said she’d prefer a women’s home, it’s her only option.

“It is co-ed, so that’s the only part that’s a little intimidating to me, I guess,” she said. “I’ve had past trauma with men, so women’s facilities are a lot more comfortable, but if that’s what I can get, that’s what I’m going to take.”

Women’s sober homes in New Hampshire – and across the nation – are hard to come by. Only 35% of the available sober homes in the state are female, according to data provided by the N.H. Coalition of Recovery Residences.

They’re particularly scarce in the southwest region of the state, with only four homes – three for men in the Keene area, one co-ed in Bennington – available west of Interstate 93.

The reason? It’s complicated, state treatment providers say.

“It’s kind of a million-dollar question,” said Andrew West, director of business development for Sobriety Centers of New Hampshire. “... I don’t know why, but there are just less female homes.”

Sober homes offer people fresh in their recovery a safe space to live to maintain their sobriety after their treatment program, with staff helping clients transition back into every day life.

The homes are often gender-specific to limit distractions, and providers say most people do better in those settings.

“I’m a single woman, and I don’t plan on getting in a relationship any time soon, but I think that being with other women helps you focus on yourself. There isn’t an outside distraction,” deMello said.

While the need for women’s homes is recognized, women could be deterred from entering a sober-living facility – especially if it isn’t close to home – because they are often the sole caretakers of their children.

“Location is a big deal because if a woman has children and is trying to reunite with her family or if she is responsible for child care, recovery housing is out of the question,” said Kim Bock, founder and executive director of the N.H. Coalition of Recovery Residences.

There are a handful of women’s sober homes in New Hampshire that allow women to bring their children to remove this barrier, but again, they’re all on the other side of the state.

Women also tend to do better in smaller homes, with five to 10 beds, whereas men appear to be fine with 15- to 20-bed facilities. Financially, West said small-scale women’s homes are tough to swing.

“In order to really float a [small] program or make it worthwhile, you have to charge a lot, which a lot of women, or anyone, is not able to afford coming right off of treatment,” he said.

Ryan Gagne, executive director of Live Free Recovery Services in Keene and Manchester, said Live Free used to run a women’s sober home in Manchester, but the occupancy was “always up and down.”

Though the home has since closed, Gagne said there seems to be a greater need for it now.

“As of recently, when we’re trying to refer the women that called us that are looking for women-specific services, that’s getting harder,” he said. “And a lot of what we’ve been hearing is ‘Oh, I’ve been there and it’s not a good fit for me.’ ”

Suzanna Boisvert, former co-owner of Keene’s Prospect House sober-living facility on Water Street, had planned to open a sober home for women on Church Street in the near future.

But with the cost of materials skyrocketing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she said it’s “not an option at this time.”

“It’s something I think our area definitely is in great need of,” Boisvert said. When “I owned Prospect House ... I would frequently get requests and calls for women, so I just felt that it was a big gap in our area.”

Nelson Hayden, executive director of The Doorway in Keene, said he has about two women per week come in asking to be put in sober housing.

Of those, he said “sometimes” they are comfortable with going to a women’s home out of town, but having a facility in the region would be helpful.

“This is a huge disservice to women trying to get into these homes,” he said.

He added that without these local homes available, it can be difficult for someone to maintain sobriety.

“They often say if somebody makes it to a year, then they have a good chance at sustaining abstinence,” Hayden said, “but getting to that year is a tough situation. And without sober supports, peer supports, it makes it harder.”

Bock, of N.H. Coalition of Recovery Residences, said the coalition – in collaboration with other organizations statewide – is working to best identify the underserved populations, including women and those that live on the west side of New Hampshire.

“Once we can determine the needs ... I think we will find people develop some more women’s homes,” she said.

Because for women like deMello, the problem isn’t going away.

“We’ve got plenty of abandoned buildings in Keene ... I don’t see what the big deal is and why there isn’t one. It would be so helpful,” she said. “I’m already doing all that I can.”

For immediate assistance, Cheshire County residents can visit The Doorway – a referral hub for people to get help with substance use disorders – at 24 Railroad St. in Keene. The Doorway is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Support through the state’s 24/7 hotline is available at 211.

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

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