Wednesday, July 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

What’s Right with Tacoma: Recovery House Opens

// Puyallup Tribe reaches out to help

Sophia Lozier was sitting on a loveseat in her new apartment on a sunny Tuesday morning. If you knew Lozier, you might have mistaken it for a miracle.

“I have been four months and 21 days clean,” Lozier said on Tuesday.

That was after eight years on pills, three failed attempts at inpatient treatment, three or four felony convictions out of who knows how many felonies committed for drug possession and sales, four months in prison and four more on work release, serial abusive relations with beaters, and the mountains, rivers and skies full of heartbreak she caused her family.

Though there's no counting the prayers sent for her safety, it was not a miracle that put Lozier on that loveseat.

It was the Puyallup Tribe of Indians' decision to forgo good intentions and old ways and adopt policy built on a combination of pragmatism, innovation, collaboration and investment.

Lozier is the first resident in the Puyallup Tribal Housing Authority's new Recovery House.

She and housing authority executive director Annette Bryan asked that we not publish the renovated building's address. The last thing Lozier wants is people from her past catching up with her.

She'd be nothing but prey to them, said her grandmother, Sally McMaster. She never was anything but prey to the boyfriends who beat her or the pals who kept track of when she'd be receiving her per-capita payments from the tribe.

“She knew never to bring any of them to my home,” McMaster said.

They would have cleaned her out, and, because they knew where it was, gone back and done it again, she said.

Lozier did go home alone when she was hungry, cold and desperate, or when she didn't have enough money to buy gas for the car that was her home. But her family could not get her off the drugs on their own. Three times, they could not keep her clean when she came out of treatment. She fell right back in with her crowd, and right out of all the expensive progress she'd made. She had weak will and no chance.

This time, she wanted success, and Recovery House offered a clear path.

The six-apartment building is secure, with interior and exterior locks and a monitoring system.

David Spencer and his wife live on-site, track every entry and departure and report any missed curfews. Over time, people coming out of treatment will occupy five two-bedroom apartments, each with living room, bath, kitchen and dining areas.

To remain in that new, clean home, they will be required to participate in an intensive outpatient program, support groups, test free of drugs and alcohol and work toward becoming independent. They must agree to stay at least six months.

Lozier already has a job, working maintenance at the Puyallup Tribal Cemetery. She has an interview for another job set up at Emerald Queen Casino. She pays $300 a month rent, has auto insurance and a driver's license.

“I don't talk to my old friends,” she said. “I have new friends from treatment. We all go to meetings together, in Tacoma, Puyallup and Lakewood.”

She stays in touch with her attorney, too. The courts assigned her to drug treatment, and if she succeeds, she will avoid a five-year prison sentence – and save us all the bill for it. Her lawyer has told her not to worry. She's doing great.

“Sophia is 110 percent compliant, Bryan said. “She's setting a high standard to follow.”

Recovery House, too, is setting solid standards and broadening resources in Tacoma. The housing authority bought the newly-remodeled building for $450,000, Bryan said. They developed policies before it started renting. The top three units will be for women, the bottom two for men. That could fluctuate with need, she said.

“The Tribal Council looked at what the real problems are, why people aren't staying clean and sober, why the recidivism rate is so high. Fifty percent of people out of treatment make it,” Bryan said. “Our narrow focus is on people who have been released from treatment. They have to be drug-free 60 days and also in an intensive outpatient program. Say they have a felony or an eviction, which is normally a barrier. We waive those.”

They also collaborate with other programs, including MDC and Catholic Community Services, that may be able to take tribal members who are not yet sober and provide housing and access to treatment. That's a model that keeps them out of hospitals, ambulances, patrol cars, courts, jails and prisons – and reduces their drain on the resources we all pay for.

They may have a home for parents with children.

“If we can't provide a resource, maybe they can,” Bryan said.

Last week, one of them did.

The capital campaign committee raising $5 million to build and operate the New Nativity House, which will have 50 apartments, saw Bryan's ad in The Puyallup Tribal News. The Housing Authority found the money to buy beds for Recovery House from NW Furniture Bank. It scrounged televisions that the Emerald Queen Casino was replacing. But it still needed furniture – sofas, chairs, tables.

Both groups are working toward the same end, but the tribal project is open nearly a year before Nativity House will be done, committee members agreed. With that, they pledged to set up an account at NW Furniture Bank's retail store to pay for equipping all the Recovery House units. There's another plus: That money will help fund operations, and pay the mortgage at the increasingly valuable furniture bank.

Already, they have put together welcome baskets with kitchen and bath needs. Already, they have written checks and put holds on sofas.

When the next resident moves into Recovery House, the Nativity House backers want to make sure there is a loveseat from the furniture bank waiting, with their best wishes.

When the next project comes on line, collaborations like this will put us that much closer to ending homelessness.