Women hope to keep Dalton anti-drug center going

Women hope to keep Dalton anti-drug center going

December 5th, 2011 by Mariann Martin in News

Shelia Cauch, 41, wipes away tears while talking about moving past her addiction at New Hope Women's Center in Dalton, Ga. Cauch said Thanksgiving was a high point on her road to recovery but that she is going through a little bit of a rough patch at the moment. The center's clients are working to keep the facility funded.

Photo by Alex Washburn/Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. -- A nurse who abused prescription drugs. A mother of five who drank at night after she tucked her children into bed. A woman who began using drugs and alcohol as an 8-year-old and finally was turned out into the streets by her own family. A grandmother who was sent to jail again and again, only to be released to go straight back to crack cocaine.

Each of them has a story of years of loss and despair. And each has a story of hope and redemption as they fight every day to turn their backs on years of addiction.

Now the women of New Hope Women's Center in Dalton have taken on a new fight -- to save the funding for the place that has helped them reclaim their lives.

"I thought I would die with a needle in my arm," said Patricia Baynes. "For so long I knew nothing but apathy -- they have given me my life back, and now I'm not numb anymore. If they take this program away, the ripple effect in this community will be greatly felt for years to come."

"It breaks our hearts to think it might close," Vicky Thomas added.

The Dalton center, run by Highland Rivers Treatment Services, provides intensive outpatient drug and alcohol treatment and transitional housing for women. The center, and more than two dozen similar ones across Georgia, have lost federal funding, and officials are not sure how long they will be able to remain open.

This comes while Georgia is looking at restructuring its prison programs and sentencing, including a proposal to create more drug courts and alternatives to prison.

Neil Kaltenecker, executive director of the Georgia Council of Substance Abuse, said the loss of funding is "a step backward."

"We are doing everything we can to ensure the doors will stay open," he said.

FEDERAL CUTS

The New Hope center and similar programs have been funded by the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

This year, Georgia's supplemental funding was cut from $20 million to $11 million, which will affect 20 residential and 14 outpatient programs.

Jason Bearden, CEO of Highland Rivers, said they were told several weeks ago all funding for New Hope and a similar program in Rome, Ga., would be cut in January. They told the staff and women in treatment centers that their doors would close on Jan. 1, but two days later state officials came back and said they had found money to keep the centers open until June.

"This is funding that keeps women out of jail -- they do incredible work," Bearden said. "It's a little fluid right now. We are talking to state officials and hoping we can find funding, but we don't know what will happen."

Cassandra Price, who heads the Division of Addictive Diseases at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, said her agency is committed to finding funding to keep the centers open. There is a chance the funding may be put back in place before Dec. 31, Price said.

The health officials also are talking to the governor's office and state legislators.

"The impact would be pretty rough," she said. "Right now it's a wait-and-see game, but we are talking to as many people as we can. We value the programs and the difference they make."

During the 2011 fiscal year, the Rome and Dalton centers served almost 400 women and 500 children in outpatient and residential treatments. The centers allow women to keep their children with them, something many treatment centers do not do, Bearden said.

The women are recommended by judges as part of their treatment or seek the help on their own.

According to statistics Bearden provided, more than 70 percent of the women are employed when they leave treatment and more than half retain or regain custody of their children while in treatment.

Bearden said not only is the service crucial for the women, it saves taxpayers' money. Outpatient treatment costs less than $6 a day, while residential services are only a little over $10 a day. By comparison, it costs about $50 a day to house an inmate. Foster care services for children average about $15 a day.

CHANGED LIVES

While state officials and executives cite numbers and statistics, the women at New Hope measure the impact of program in children who no longer have a mother addicted to drugs and women whose days are free from the addictions most of them have known since they were teenagers.

Thursday morning, five of New Hope's outpatients gathered in the group therapy room to talk about how their lives have changed in the last few months.

Vicky Thomas, 46, has used drugs for 30 years, mostly crack cocaine. She has been arrested seven or eight times and spent several stints in jail. Each time she was released, she turned back to drugs.

"That was how I coped with life," she said. After an arrest earlier this year, she spent three months in jail and then a judge agreed to let her try the treatment center for the rest of her sentence.

She has been clean for nine months now. Her whole life is different, Thomas said, her eyes bright with unshed tears. She dresses differently, spends time with her grandchildren and is looking for a job.

"If you have the will and desire, this place will help you," she said. "I couldn't do it on my own; I'd stop, but I'd always go back. You are not going to pull wool over their eyes, and they call you" on bad behavior.

The women come to the center five days a week from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and spend the day on activities such as group therapy sessions, education and job searches. Treatment can last from six months to a year.

There is on-site day care for small children. New Hope has four transitional housing rooms that share a living room, kitchen and dining room.

"We get so many things here," Brandy Croy said. "When I first walked in this room, I was scared to death, but we love each other. These women are like sisters to me."

Croy, 34, was a registered nurse who was addicted to prescription drugs she was easily able to access through her job. She is married, has three daughters and had a good job. Her addiction nearly cost her everything, she said.

Now she has been drug-free four months. She is kicking her addiction for herself and her daughters, ages 9, 11 and 15, she said.

"I've had addiction in my family for generations, and I know my daughters are four times more likely to use because of my addiction," she said. "It want that to stop with me."

The women say every day is a struggle, but New Hope gives them tools to deal with their problems. Each carries a white three-ring binder with information to use when the going gets tough.

Every day is hard, Shelia Couch said. She has been in the program only a month, and she breaks into tears when she talks, her face half hidden by curly blond hair. Last year she attempted suicide.

"It's so incredibly hard," she said, and then stopped, unable to continue.

Thomas reached over and put her hand on her leg. Croy nodded in support.

"We've all been there," she said. "It will get better."

The women said they are speaking out not just for themselves but for every addicted woman and every child with an addicted parent. They plan to write letters to all their legislators on baby onesies and blue and pink caps to symbolize the babies who are born drug-free in the program.

"They talk about the ripple affect of addiction," Baynes said. "There is also the ripple affect of recovery. This place has changed so many people."