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Canaan house in Cheektowaga says cut in funding by Erie County is forcing it to close

A Cheektowaga rehabilitation home for women is set to close at the end of the month and its leaders say it’s because their funding from Erie County was cut.

Canaan House, 1140 Walden Ave., will close Tuesday, said Merle E. Showers, president of the board of directors for Canaan Ministries, which operates the nonprofit eight-bed residence and program for women coming out of prison, detoxification programs or drug court.

“We finally said there’s got to be a cutoff point and we’ve got to make that decision,” he said. “So we did.”

In 2013, Erie County notified Showers and the operators of two other small recovery programs for women, New Life Residential Center and Paradise House, that it would cut the benefits their residents can receive.

It slashed by more than half the payments that go to these homes, Showers said.

While the women staying there previously received $632 in benefits to cover housing, utilities and personal expenses, that amount dropped to $306. Showers said Erie County’s share averaged $40,000 annually before the cuts.

“It became a dollars-and-cents thing where Erie County wanted to use their money differently and so they weren’t willing to continue the program,” Showers said.

“They were going to have the state take over the costs.”

Just as Canaan House was learning to survive on its reduced funding, referrals this year starting going mainly to larger and more institutional facilities with accreditation by New York State’s Office of Alcohol Substance Abuse Services, Showers said.

“Then our numbers dropped down to one or two a month and we couldn’t sustain the program at that point,” he said.

But Showers contends that Canaan’s program is more beneficial for women because it offers them a smaller home with stricter rules where they must earn privileges and more individualized attention.

“They have to devote themselves totally to getting some basic instructions about how to live without their substance abuse,” he said.

And Canaan has been phased out just as the opiate epidemic was taking hold in the county when it might have been able to help, he said. “When Erie County headed into this adventure, the opioid problem was not on their doorstep, at least they weren’t aware of it,” he said.

County officials told The Buffalo News last year that they require accountability and specific outcomes from state-licensed providers.

Founded in 1998 by Episcopal Deacon Shirley Trail, Canaan House is also financially supported by local churches, individuals and foundations.

But the decision has been made to close before the organization starts getting into debt, Showers said.

For 28 years, Showers said, Canaan House successfully returned women to school, employment and their families.

“I know that for many of them this is going to be difficult, too, because this is where they got their life straightened out,” he said.

“We’re sad, but we know we just can’t keep doing it.”