Withdrawal of one drug treatment center created opportunity for another, but more will be needed

Hobson House Executive Director Greg Goetterman and Donnie Foster, house manager of the agency's new facility on Culbertson Street, inspect a garden that will supply produce for the drug treatment center's kitchen.

The need to help people overcome drug addiction didn’t go away when opposition compelled Park Center to drop plans for a treatment center on Rupp Drive two months ago. Fortunately, another organization is stepping in to fill the void in a facility that has been dedicated to that purpose for years but has never quite reached its potential.

“There are 457 low-level offenders (in the Allen County Jail) who qualify for treatment,” said Greg Goetterman, who is executive director of the Hobson House at 2021 Hobson Road and will soon open a court-directed residential treatment center at 2720 Culbertson St. Goetterman knows a facility limited to 56 men won’t single-handedly solve an opioid epidemic believed to affect more than 30,000 people in Allen County alone, but he knows enough about addiction to understand it must be overcome one life at a time.

The operation will require approval by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals but, unlike Park Center’s request, the OK should be relatively routine because the Culbertson Street address has a long history as a refuge for addicts seeking help. Once home to the Washington House, a private drug and alcohol rehab center, Allen County Community Corrections in 2010 used $650,000 in federal stimulus money and $500,000 from the state to open Kelley House, a residential facility for offenders battling substance abuse and mental-health issues. When budget constraints caused Kelley House to close five years later the county donated the property to Fort Wayne’s Faith-Based Mentoring Ministries, which reopened the 27,000-square-foot building as a voluntary facility renamed “Catalpa Street” after a nearby drive and tree. But when Park Center’s plan met resistance, its leaders helped organize a meeting of representatives from the Hobson House and Faith-Based Mentoring Ministries, realizing the similar programs might be more effective by working together.

“We were growing slowly, looking for people who want to change their lives,” said Faith-Based leader Bob Wearley. “But because of the need, this is the right thing to do. If (Hobson House’s) program helps people realize the need to change, it will be God’s answer to prayer.” Four current residents will remain after Hobson House takes over.

Housing and treating people assigned by the courts will help pay the bills on Catalpa Street, but Goetterman knows getting through to residents who don’t necessarily to be there will make an already challenging task even more difficult.

But residents won’t face the challenge alone. They’ll live together in groups of eight, led by a senior resident who has already received help from Hobson House. The program will include anger management, therapy and a “moral component” through a traditional 12-step program that is spiritual but not specifically religious. Residents will stay for six months and are not allowed to have a job for the first 30 days so they can concentrate on getting well. The facility will also offer gardening, culinary instruction and a gym because, as Goetterman said, “nobody walks in in great shape.”

Even though residents will be sent by the courts, the facility will not accept sexual offenders or people convicted of violent crimes. Residents who bring in drugs, behave violently or steal will be expelled. “We’re very excited by the opportunity this presents,” Allen Superior Judge Wendy Davis said. “We struggle in the criminal courts with not having enough housing, especially for women.”

For Goetterman, the mission is personal. He became a serious drinker while attending the University of Michigan and “was in and out of jail” before attempting suicide in 2010. That finally convinced him to seek help for his addiction, but it also opened his eyes to “what works and what doesn’t. Addiction creates a sense of loneliness. It can’t be treated at boardroom speed. It’s measured in lives, by days and weeks.”

Goetterman said solving the opioid crisis will require society to change how it views the people most affected by it. Addiction isn’t a choice, he said: “It’s a disease, and we want to treat people as patients, not criminals.”

But what will happens to the facility’s residents after their six months are up?

“That’s something we’re working on,” said Goetterman, who knows better than most winning the battle will require more facilities like this one. There are a lot of physical, emotional and societal wounds to heal and, as he knows only too well, “We’re just triage.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.