Sober-living facility may come to north side, despite some neighborhood opposition

J&A supports sober-living facility

A recovering addict and his partner hope to give new hope to those suffering with addiction on La Crosse’s north side, but not everyone’s happy with the proposal.

“Sober housing was a big part of my own personal story,” said CEO of Driftless Recovery Services Austin Reinhart. “I am a person in long-term recovery. This is what I’m passionate about. I moved back to my community after establishing my own recovery in order to help my community.”

Reinhart and co-founder Brett Knutson want to take their efforts at Driftless Recovery, where they help young adults with substance abuse problems with therapy, to the next level with a sober-living facility on the Northside. They said there’s a gap in housing for those in recovery after getting out of rehab.

“There’s no doubt that La Crosse has a serious drug and alcohol issue, and we can’t continue to ignore the problem,” said Knutson.

The facility has room for 16 men in the targeted age range of 18-25 with no previous serious criminal offenses. Reinhart said they would have to fill out an application to see if they’re a right fit for the house.

The La Crosse Judiciary & Administration Committee supported the effort Tuesday, 6-2.

Some opponents have expressed worries, including concerns with nearby schools and the possibility of increased crime.

Jeff Grant, owner of Jeff’s Auto and Cycle, said he and his neighbors and businesses on the block are not happy about the proposal. “If they don’t make it, they turn to crime, and there’s enough crime been happening around this area. We don’t want anymore,” he said

City Council member Ryan Cornett, who represents District 3, said while he had his doubts at first, but Tuesday’s meeting helped settle issues he was worried about, like additional parking that would come with the facility and garbage pickup. He also said learning that the facility is for people actively seeking a sober lifestyle after rehab who would be kicked out if they break the rules helped change his mind.

“Some people just don’t want this type of facility near them even though they have the problems in their neighborhood already, but it’s going to be there regardless of if this building is put here,” Cornett said. “I believe if you at least give them a venue to seek treatment you’re trying to find a solution to the problem.”

The YWCA’s Ruth House also helps those in recovery find shelter, but it is different from the sober-living house. It’s a non-profit emergency home for homeless women and those recovering from substance addictions. But Housing Director of the YWCA Meredith McCoy said it’s critical to have a sober living environment regardless of what recovery stage a person is in.

“The support that they do get, whether that be through their living, friends, family through their supportive community and recovery community, those are all essential elements for folks to continue to live a sober life,” said McCoy.

“There’s a saying in recovery that the most important thing you have to do is change your playmates and playgrounds,” said Knutson. “Often people that leave these (rehab) facilities and have no place to go but back to the same environments, often times chaotic unstable environments that help maintain and continue those addictive cycles. Sober housing offers them an opportunity to be around peer to peer environments where these people aren’t actively using, they’re actively sober and looking to expand on their recovery.”

Reinhart said by helping those in recovery, they can then pass it along.

“By having that spirit of helpfulness, that’s what we’re attempting to allow the Northside community to have is a group of individuals who have a sincere desire to be helpful, to not just that particular community but to La Crosse and the Coulee Region as a whole,” he said.

The men in the proposed sober-living facility would have to live under a number of regulations, like attending recovery meetings, going to school or work and completing volunteer time.

Cornett said there will be meetings set up in the neighborhood for community members to talk about the facility.

The La Crosse Common Council will vote on it next Thursday