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WNY supportive living program helps those battling addiction

By the time those battling drug addiction get to the Cazenovia Recovery Systems’ Supportive Living Program, they have gone through inpatient rehab and multiresidential treatment settings as they try to rebuild their lives.

It can take months – or maybe never – before they have the opportunity to live in one of 19 apartment houses in Erie and Niagara counties as Tina McCarty-Neveu and her eight-member staff help them set up a home life, look for a job and try to reconnect with their families.

It isn’t easy, especially in a climate where there is sometimes little empathy for for those with addictions, and funding streams sometimes flow and sometimes ebb.

“Residents used to be able to stay for longer periods of time,” said McCarty-Neveu, supportive living program director since late 2015. “I’ve been in the field now 17, 18 years and it feels like treatment experiences are getting shorter and shorter.”

Those allowed to enroll in the program must pay $975 a month. That includes rent, utilities, a room, counseling services, a case manager and access to support groups. Disability and Department of Social Services payments generally cover those costs, but there is a rub.

“People enter employment and sometimes they’re told by DSS within a month that their benefits are going to be cut,” McCarty-Neveu said. “They have fear you can see in their face that, ‘I’m not ready.’ Helping to advocate (for funding) often does not work so we work with our residents the best we can.”

McCarty-Neveu, a Farnham native who holds a bachelor’s in social sciences from SUNY Buffalo State and is a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor. She and her husband, Luke Neveu, a document specialist with Niagara University who also DJs weddings and special occasions, have two daughters, Kyrsten, 6, and Kaya, 2.

Q. What brought you to a peer group in high school?

I always ask my residents, 'Who in your life gets it? Who understands what you’re going through? If you don’t have somebody like that in your life, you need to find them,' says Tina McCarty-Neveu, supportive living program director with Cazenovia Recovery Systems. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

I wanted to help. I've always wanted to help people. I liked the vision they had and that was a time before terms like "bullying" were such big terms. I saw there was a disconnect with peers talking to guidance counselors or peers talking to teachers and I thought relationships were a lot more important between peers and we could communicate a lot more.

Q. How does the Supportive Living Program work?

Most of our residents have to be sober at least 90 days and be connected with a chemical dependency outpatient clinic and with mental health services if necessary. ... They have a counselor they are required to meet with at least weekly who helps to develop a treatment plan, goals and objectives that residents are working toward to become independent. The general length of stay is about six to nine months and our hope at the end is that our residents move into safe, sober, stable housing independently. ... A lot of people are starting from ground zero out, and may not even have furniture.

Q. What does a typical week or month look like for those who are in the program?

Just like you and me, with a support person by their side. We are the cheerleaders. We’re here to set you up and point you in the right direction, however our residents look just like me and you sitting at the kitchen table, cooking their own meals, allowing family to come over to visit. They’re able to come and go freely. Their children can reside with them. There are some minimal guidelines to abide by relative to curfew and urine testing (at least twice a month). ... This is unique to our level of care.

Q. Are you seeing people who've had addictions to alcohol, illegal drugs and painkilling medications?

Across the board - and probably at least 85 percent are addicted to multiple substances. It's very rare now to find somebody who has just one primary addiction.

Q. The need would seem far greater than for 19 residences scattered across two counties. Are there waiting lists? Plans to expand?

We do have waiting lists in both counties. We’re always looking to expand our programs but the viability of our program is dependent on funds and being able to keep apartments open and our beds filled. It’s difficult to manage that with the limited funding we have.

Q. What do people who have been successful long-term in recovery tell you about the elements important to their recovery?

It's great to live in a land of choices. That's where trauma-informed care comes in, offering them the ability to have choices within their care. If you're just trying to tell them, "I think you need to do this," "You should be doing that," that doesn't help someone. It makes them feel further shamed, further condemned, not listened to or cared about.

For a lot of successful residents I talk to, it’s that concrete family support, that total openness to say, “I shot heroin, I smoked crack cocaine, I drank alcohol,” just to really let go and invite that family support in. Self-help – that network with Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, sponsorship – also really seems to be at the core of positive outcomes for people.

I always ask my residents, “Who in your life gets it? Who understands what you’re going through? If you don’t have somebody like that in your life, you need to find them.”

Q. What sort of success have program participants had in recent years?

In our supportive living programs last year, 99 percent had no emergency room visits, 84 percent remained free of drugs and alcohol, and 100 percent had no behavioral health inpatient admissions. That’s out of 258 residents. … We currently have somebody with his Ph.D. Some don't have GED. We are serving a wide range of individuals. This is seen cross-culturally across addiction.

We have a resident in particular who’s one of our successes. She had a history of using opioid painkillers and it took her to a point of dissolving all of her relationships. She was gravely ill. She has gone through every level of care recommended to her, from detox to Horizon Village to Casa Di Vita to supportive living. She is now looking for employment, as well as to obtain her own house. But I highlight her because of her re-engagement with her family. Her family has fully, whole-heartedly supported her, and family members have done some work on their own to be able to understand addiction better. She has teenage children outside of the program and they have rallied around her. It’s helped her to become more open and it has washed away shame and guilt. She’s vibrant and active within self-help and is now chairing meetings. She’s such a shining light in our program. I tell her all the time, “You are the reason we do what we do.”

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Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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