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Potsdam halfway house planned for 2013

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POTSDAM — Plans for a halfway house for women recovering from addiction are moving forward. Construction of the home, on a vacant lot at 88 Market St., likely will begin this year.

The idea for the home started when Carolyn M. White, former director of the chemical dependency unit at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, had a conversation with New Hope Community Church Pastor John T. Ault about the lack of options for women leaving rehab programs.

“We started talking about the fact that there was very little place for our women patients to go after rehab in this area,” Ms. White said.

Most rehab programs last less than a month. This is not enough time to kick addiction, Ms. White said, especially if the patients do not have a stable home to go back to.

“If a woman goes back to an environment where there’s drinking and drug use and chaos, it’s almost impossible to get better,” Ms. White said. “The cycle would never be broken.”

Halfway houses provide a way for rehab patients to further develop the skills they learned to end their addiction and restart their lives.

Ms. White and Mr. Ault formed New Hope Transformation Ministries, a nonprofit group dedicated to building a house for women recovering from addiction. The group received permission from the Potsdam Planning Board to construct the house.

Women will spend six to 12 months at the house, which will serve St. Lawrence and Franklin county residents. They will be responsible for cleaning, cooking and looking after themselves, under the supervision of a full-time resident director who will live at the house. They will receive regular outpatient counseling, along with training on cooking, shopping, job searching and other life skills.

The women also will study for General Educational Development exams to receive a diploma.

The program will be faith-based. Attending Bible study and church services will be encouraged, but optional.

The home will house up to 12 women at a time. Ms. White said 12 spots are not enough to serve all the needs in the area, but making the facility larger would hamper the group’s ability to create a homey atmosphere and work one-on-one with residents, which is important to recovery.

“I think if you get a house that’s more than 12 people, you lose a whole lot,” she said.

Residents also will volunteer in the community and begin to seek employment. Several Potsdam business owners already have agreed to hire women who live at the home as interns or for entry-level jobs, Ms. White said, though she wouldn’t divulge any names.

New Hope Transformation Ministries will help residents find an appropriate place to live after they have completed their stay.

“We will use all of our pull and all of our resources within the community to help them find decent housing,” Ms. White said.

New Hope Transformation Ministry’s five-member board has nearly finished writing a grant application to the state’s Homeless Housing Assistance Program. The grant would give the group the funds it needs to build the house.

The ministry originally planned to apply for the grant before the end of 2012, but the village Planning Board took longer than anticipated to approve the project.

“The village Planning Board kind of dragged on and on, so by the time we finished that process and got ready to get it submitted, the state was out of money for 2012,” Ms. White said.

Ms. White said the Homeless Housing Assistance Program likely will approve the request, since it already has approved an early conceptual proposal for the house.

If the funding is approved, construction will begin this year.

The plan encountered fervent resistance from some village residents who were worried about possible negative effects that could accompany recovering drug addicts living on Potsdam’s busiest street.

Members of New Hope Transformation Ministries will hold regular meetings with the community and the village police chief once the program starts, in order to address any concerns.

“I’m not saying that every woman that goes to a halfway house is cured. Would that it would be that easy,” Ms. White said.

But she said the positive effects of programs like the one proposed for Potsdam can be profound.

“They make all the difference in the world,” she said.

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