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Program Known for Job Assistance Seeks Inroads in Housing Support

March 03, 2020

An innovative Massachusetts project that has received federal and state funding support from numerous sources will use most of a third-year allocation of state funding to offer transitional housing assistance to individuals with substance use disorders. As a condition of receiving up to 20 weeks of free rent in a sober home, participants in recovery will have to be enrolled in a job training program.

Vocational assistance has long been at the heart of this initiative, which still goes by the name Access to Recovery (ATR) based on its original federal funding source. A total of $2.7 million from the state of Massachusetts in the current fiscal year will allow ATR to offer secure, rent-free housing for a period during which individuals are transitioning from a treatment program or incarceration.

“We will pay up to 20 weeks of rent in a state-certified sober home as these individuals transition back to the community,” Rebecca Starr, director of the ATR program and senior program manager at Advocates for Human Potential, tells Addiction Professional. “We are using only state-certified sober homes.”

The ATR program in Massachusetts covers the communities of Boston, Worcester, New Bedford and Springfield/Holyoke. The number of individuals who can be served under the rental assistance initiative will depend on the available supply of recovery residence beds, says Starr, who hopes at least a couple hundred people will be able to take advantage of the opportunity. ATR in all serves around 3,000 Massachusetts residents annually.

“There are very few women's sober homes,” Starr says, citing one barrier to placement. “There are no family sober homes, for people with children.”

The overall ATR demographic in Massachusetts is around two-thirds male and more than half white, with around 80% of individuals self-identifying as having an opioid use disorder. The median age of ATR participants is 39, Starr says.

Support from coordinators

Participants in what is being called the Sober Home Pilot Project will first meet with a housing coordinator who will ask about the individual's housing preferences. Once the person is placed in an appropriate recovery residence, a recovery coach will meet regularly with the individual to help navigate any challenges around house rules and to help establish a housing plan for the time after financial support ends.

“We hope that with the support that will wrap around the individual, the person will make the most out of the 20 weeks,” Starr says.

The recovery coaches are trained individuals who must receive supervision and are required to participate in continuing education, she says.

The ATR program has made significant inroads in vocational assistance, establishing numerous job training programs and paying participants a $10 hourly work/study benefit while they are in training. Some of the fields for which there has been great progress in placing persons in recovery are the culinary industry, commercial cleaning and office/technology, Starr says. In general, she says, the program has experienced success in fields that tend to be more receptive to hiring people with a criminal justice history.

Since federal ATR funding ended, the Massachusetts program has received support from other major federal sources, including the State Opioid Response (SOR) grant program at present. Starr says state funding has been earmarked to ATR over the past three years as well, at steadily increasing levels of $500,000, $1.5 million and now $3 million. In the current allocation, $300,000 of the $3 million will fund a program evaluation, with the other $2.7 million supporting the new housing initiative, Starr says.

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