Stepshouse Offers Help On Road To Recovery

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Cindy Thompson can relate to the men who come to StepsHouse to deal with their alcohol and drug addictions.

Until she found help at a similar half-way house in the Valley, she was a vagrant eating out of dumpsters on the streets of South Phoenix.

"I escaped from my problems by using drugs and alcohol," Thompson said, "and at some point in my early 20s, I became addicted to cocaine. I managed to graduate from college and had a couple of children, but the long-term stability and responsibility weren't there.

"My children ended up being adopted by my cousin, and after two years living in the streets and getting arrested over and over, I finally got some help through a probation officer."

Thanks to the Center for Healing in Glendale, Thompson has been sober for nearly two years. When she was offered the opportunity to move to Payson to manage the seven-bedroom men's facility located at on South Bassett Lane, she jumped at it.

"The manager, who originally came up here when it opened last November, got married," she said. "Helping other people with addictions has become the focus of my life."

In Payson, there is plenty of work to be done. The home on Bassett, which is operated by StepsHouse, Inc., a Glendale-based nonprofit corporation that operates Center for Healing and other StepsHouse facilities in the Valley, is currently filled to near capacity.

"Our limit is 10, maybe 11 if it was very cold and somebody was desperate, and we currently have nine residents plus a staff member," Thompson said.

Besides space, the only requirements to get in are an alcohol or drug problem and a desire to live sober.

"We get referrals from Rim Guidance, from probation, attorneys, judges, word of mouth, the Department of Economic Security, hospitals, de-tox facilities," Thompson said.

People in need of help can simply knock on the door too, she said. The youngest current resident is 18, the minimum age allowed; the oldest is 67.

"Right now we have a senior citizen on Social Security who came to us from Payson Care Center," Thompson said. "He's been sober for about six months, and he's thinking more clearly, his health is getting better, and he's working on getting his driver's license reinstated."

Residents who are not retired are required to hold full-time jobs, and each is assigned a chore that must be completed daily.

"It's all about learning to take responsibility for your life," Thompson said. "It takes a long time for some of us to grow up. Here we start at a daily level with making your bed, getting a shower, going to work, cleaning up after yourself."

Each resident is responsible for preparing his own meals. For newcomers who haven't started working, food donated by local food banks and churches is available.

"Everybody cooks and cleans on their own for the most part," Thompson said. "Sometimes I'll scramble up some eggs or somebody will make us all spaghetti, but everybody has a different work schedule and different days off."

The minimum recommended stay at StepsHouse is 90 days, but residents can stay as long as they feel they need to be there.

New residents are required to attend 60 meetings in 60 days. After that, they must attend a minimum of four meetings a week.

Residents also are expected to contribute to the cost of operating the house, including paying $90 a month for rent, and must stay current on child support and other obligations.

Another big part of the program is daily supervision.

"We provide very strict supervision," Thompson said. "I want to know where you're at and what you're doing. When you get paid, I want you to bring that check here, and I want to know what happens to your money. I want to know your clothes are washed and your room's clean, that you did your chore and you have food and you're washing your dishes, basically down to having your shoes tied and your coat on when you leave the house."

Thompson has a Breathalyzer and drug tests, and uses them as necessary.

"When they're new if they're gone more than an hour and I don't know where they are I'm very likely to pull a breath or drug test," she said. "We also don't allow products like Listerine or Nyquil, and narcotic prescriptions even if they're legally prescribed. You go to the hospital and get a shot, but you cannot fill a prescription and keep that medication here."

Many neighbors who were initially apprehensive about having a halfway house in their neighborhood are being won over.

Many local agencies and businesses have played a supporting role in the success of StepsHouse. Thompson cited assistance from St. Vincent de Paul, Payson Concrete and Materials, Tree Pro, Ace Hardware, Wal-Mart and Star Valley Veterinary Clinic.

"We have received cash donations, food, blankets, furniture, firewood, paint, gravel, even a fishing boat," she said. "When you're recovering from drugs or alcohol abuse, it's really important to have good nutrition, to sleep well, and to have clean clothes so you can go to work and feel productive again."

The fishing boat, which residents have refurbished, will also play an important role in the recovery process.

"It's really important when you get sober to start doing fun activities again and realize you can have a life," Thompson said. "One of the things I remember is (when) my rehab program took us camping. To be out in nature again impressed upon me how I used to do those things before I got in so much trouble. It gave me the motivation to keep it together."

StepsHouse is totally self-supporting, receiving no help from government agencies except the food stamps most of the residents get. Besides cash donations, the facility also can use food, wood and men's clothing.

But what they really need most, Thompson said, is a van.

"We need a passenger van to take people to meetings, to make trips together to the store, to just do things as a group," she said. "We need each other's support here, and those kinds of things can really help pull one in who might be isolated."

A similar facility for women Kokopelli's Kottage opened Oct. 1 in a house near the post office. It has room for seven women.

Thompson said maintaining separate facilities for the sexes is important.

"You need to focus on yourself in recovery, and it's real easy to start having feelings and attachments for this other person who may or may not stay sober and distract your focus from your work on your own growth. You can't get happiness from other people, from a job, from money. The only way to be happy is to be truly happy inside.

"It takes some soul searching and work and getting rid of baggage," she said.

Cindy Thompson, who learned that lesson on the streets of South Phoenix, is doing her best to bring it home to the residents of StepsHouse.

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