A place to call home
Oxford House offers help for recovering addicts
By Robert Cloud
Oxford House represents the last piece of the comprehensive recovery programs developed locally in response to growing addiction problems, according to Vicki Poeschl.
Poeschl is a member of the Waupaca Community Health Action Team (CHAT), a community group that focuses on health issues.
She and Michael Schultz wrote the grant applications that helped CHAT bring Oxford House to the community.
Working with Bill Lauer, with Wisconsin Outreach Services for Oxford House, Poeschl and Schultz raised more than $50,000 to hire outreach workers, furnish the homes and provide a revolving loan fund for new residents.
Statewide, there are 27 Oxford Houses.
Schultz, who works as a volunteer with Waupaca County’s Drug Treatment Court, said, “One of the questions judges always ask is, ‘Do you have a safe place to live?’”
For those trying to overcome addiction, returning to the environment and the people associated with past drug-related behavior often leads to relapse.
The goal of Oxford House is to create a sober-living community that encourages recovery.
Oxford Houses are run by the residents themselves, rather than by managers or counselors.
Residents vote, elect their leadership, interview and determine new members.
“I like the empowerment of it,” said Dustin, who is a resident and an outreach worker for Oxford House. “There is no hierarchy or staff telling you what to do. You have accountability and responsibility for what happens in this house.”
“We all want this,” said Tony, one of the six men currently living at the Oxford House on Demarest Street in Waupaca. “We all want recovery. We all made mistakes but we want something different, something better in life.”
Lauer said the Oxford House model works because the residents build relationships with others who are also working to be sober and take responsibility for their lives.
The residents are responsible for the costs of maintaining the house and paying the rent.
“Everyone who lives here works,” Dustin said. “We expect you to do some kind of activity outside of the house whether it’s work or as a community volunteer.”
Lauer noted Oxford House receives no government funding and is totally self-sufficient once it opens.
Residents are required to maintain absolute sobriety.
“If they drink, they will be expelled within 30 minutes,” Dustin said, when asked what happens to residents who relapse.
Members usually attend three meetings a week, either at their church, at counseling sessions or other recovery programs in the community.
Disruptive behavior that may jeopardize the members is also prohibited.
“Neighbors may be concerned about people with serious crimes or sex offenders,” Poeschl said. “Each house votes on who comes in and who doesn’t.”
Dustin said current residents will screen applicants to ensure they do not have a history of violent crimes.
House members come from treatment centers, drug court, jail and homeless shelters.
“Our main focus is recovery from all of that,” Lauer said.
Researchers from DePaul University and the University of Illinois found the relapse rate for those living in an Oxford House was 31.3 percent, while the relapse rate for those who returned to their normal living situations was 64.8 percent after two years.
Volunteers are working to open a second Oxford House in Waupaca in the spring of 2019. It will serve women.
“This was a lot of hard work, but it’s so worth it,” Poeschl said. “We could not have accomplished this without support from the community.”