As its one-year anniversary nears, things are going well at the Hollister location of Sun Street Centers’ sober living environment (SLE) for women. In fact, Trish Garza-Lujan, who has been house manager since the opening of the house, she says things have been going “really well.” The location has addressed a “big need” in the community and Hollister has “always had behavioral health counseling, but no treatment, and no SLEs,” says Garza-Lujan.
According to Sun Street Centers’s website, SLEs are “committed to ensuring a safe, clean, structured recovery environment, and dedicated to providing supportive and affordable sober living.” The home in Hollister provides what Garza-Lujan calls “social-modeled” living, allowing the residents to “live on their own integrity,” after being released from drug addiction treatment programs.
Garza-Lujan herself has been in recovery for 22 years. After studying drug-counseling training, she became a peer-mentor for women in recovery before becoming house manager at Hollister’s SLE. Garza-Lujan doesn’t live at the home, but she is there almost every day, helping with issues large and small, like what to wear to interviews, or how to resolve a misunderstanding. All other responsibilities—cleaning, cooking, and upkeep—belong to the women who live there.
There is one crucial house rule for application: all applicants must be at least 90 days clean. They must also be able to pay rent. That means getting a job. Some residents fold laundry, some work at Starbucks. But everyone living at the SLE is moving in a positive direction, incrementally taking on more responsibility, and becoming familiar with the everyday demands of a sober life.
The SLE house isn’t for everyone. Garza-Lujan says that some people “want recovery, but they aren’t ready for it.” It can take just one addict in the house to turn everything upside down. “They come here and we have to ask them to leave … I can’t have anyone jeopardizing the whole house.”
However, in one year of operation, there has only been one resident asked to leave the SLE. “It’s sad, because we want to help them,” says Garza-Lujan, “but you can’t make them. They have to want it. That’s the thing about recovery. You have to want to be clean, you have to want to change your life and your behaviors, and it’s hard.”
Now, after one year of success, Sun Street Centers is raising money to purchase its Sixth Street location, which can house 11 women. There are seven current residents, and three more on Garza-Lujan’s waiting list. To date, there have been three women who have left the SLE and are successfully supporting themselves.
Leaving the SLE has it’s own set of challenges. There are also a couple current residents who feel ready, but they have been placed on a waiting lists for local low-income housing. It’s precisely this reason that the SLE doesn’t have a limit. If Garza-Lujan started kicking women out before they were ready to live on their own, the women would risk falling back into old habits and “back into the disease, back to the dysfunction with their parents or husband—or homeless.”
Pamela, 35, and a current resident at the SLE, said she understands the threat of homelessness too well. After coming out of jail, she first went to live with her mom, but it wasn’t working well for her recovery. She needed somewhere to sleep, and lived with Garza-Lujan for a few days until a room opened at the SLE. “I was not going to lose [Pamela] in those few 10 days, because she had nowhere to live,” says Garza-Lujan, “And I know she would have ended up using again.”
Pamela knows that the room at the SLE saved her life. “When I come here, when I come in and close that door, I know that I’m safe. The minute I walk out that door, anything could happen,” she says.
Pamela also knows that it is her responsibility to help her housemates. Ruth, 33, wanted to live at the Hollister SLE to be close to her son, who lives in a nearby children’s center. She understands the social contract at work in the house, and says that she “needs to stay clean in order to support [Pamela],” and the feeling is mutual.
The SLE has given the residents the opportunity to think about productive futures. Ruth, who says she tried to take it “one day at a time” wants to regain custody of her son and buy a house.
Pamela is also using her stability at the SLE to try and re-establish a relationship with daughter. She said she would like to go back to school, and thinks positively about her future. “I’m just trying to stay clean and take care of myself, and I think everything will fall into place.”
Sun Street Centers is fundraising for another month, hoping to raise enough money to purchase the Hollister home. The effort has raised $147,200 toward the $210,000 goal as of July 4. Donations of clothes, hygiene products, and other household goods are also always welcome.