With no state funding, Hope for N.H. Recovery announces it’s closing 4 of 5 resource centers 

  • The logo for the Hope Recovery Center is branded on 85. S. State St. and a sign on the front door simply reads: “OPENING SOON.” GEOFF FORESTER

  • Nicole Aliengena, 32, and Stephanie Barry, 29, sit on the steps of Hope for N.H. Recovery’s Concord resource center on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. Both said they’ve used the organization’s services in personal battles with substance abuse disorders and were surprised by the announcement on Tuesday that Hope for N.H. would be closing its Concord center, along with three other locations. LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/20/2018 12:14:43 PM

Stephanie Barry walked to the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery resource center in Concord on Tuesday, part of her daily routine since she got clean after an 11-year struggle with addiction.

When she got there – ready for a group meeting – she found out she may have to develop a new path to long-term recovery.

One of the state’s biggest nonprofits dedicated to helping people live sober unexpectedly announced it was closing four of its five support and recovery resource centers in the state, including the one in Concord, due to a lack of funding.

The four centers – which offer recovery peer counseling, social activities and support groups for those struggling with addiction – will close by the end of the month.

Barry said she didn’t believe the news when she heard it.

“It just didn’t make sense, given the problems we’ve been having with opioids in the state,” she said.

Hope for N.H. Recovery officials said the nonprofit has been without state aid since the start of this fiscal year in July and will close centers in Franklin, Claremont and Berlin, as well as Concord.

“When we were initially asked to open centers in these communities, we intended for them to be sustained via a blended funding stream. This stream was to consist of support from local businesses, organizations, and individuals as well as some state funding,” Scott Bickford, HOPE’s board chairman, wrote in the release.

“The funding just hasn’t materialized as we had hoped,” Executive Director Melissa Crews added. “Unfortunately, the costs to operate the centers are significantly higher than the revenue available to each center.”

The organization’s main facility in Manchester has received the most funding through donors and will still continue to provide services, officials said.

Barry, 29, said the closure of centers like the one in Concord will be a huge blow to local recovery communities, which rely on the day-to-day resources Hope provides.

“It’s terrifying to think of the people who need help and might not get it now,” she said.

Peer support

Barry said she struggled with substance abuse on and off for 10 years before she started spending time at the Hope center last June.

In the past, any progress she made in drug rehabilitation facilities was quickly undone when she returned to the real world and found herself re-immersed in the social circles that had fueled her addiction in the first place.

“I would get out of treatment, and then I would go back to the same friends and it would go on a repeat cycle,” she said.

Now, Barry comes during her lunch break from work to go to meetings and volunteer. She said part of staying sober for her is more than just getting clean – it’s creating a new life and social identity.

Through Hope for N.H. Recovery, she’s been able to find peer supports who helped her craft her resume when she was looking for a job and helped her find affordable housing when she needed to find a place to live.

Nicole Aliengena, 32, described the center as a “daily rehab,” after the clinical rehabilitation process.

“If you’re having a hard day, and this is where you come because you know you’re safe here,” she said. “This place is how I’ve made most of my friends that I have today.”

The center offers nutrition and meditation programming, as well as sober social gatherings and outings, like a day trip to the beach.

The location is also important to a lot of people who use the center. Many are homeless when they’re using, officials at the Concord center said, and Hope for N.H. Recovery is in walking distance of the McKenna House, the Friendly Kitchen and other downtown resources.

“It’s such a shame to think that hard-working people that want to get help aren’t going to have a place to go,” one volunteer said.

An emerging need

The loss of four of Hope’s recovery centers in the state leaves a gap in care for individuals struggling with addiction, Riverbend Community Mental Health CEO Peter Evers said.

“I think it’s a blow,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s really a blow when you think about how aggressive they were two or three years ago when they opened these centers. It leaves people in a difficult place in terms of their recovery.”

Evers, who is a former board member with Hope for N.H. Recovery, said Riverbend and other community resource providers will have to find ways to offer peer support services.

Riverbend is in the process of incorporating Certified Recovery Support Workers into its staff, which could mean developing a program with Concord Hospital where peer counselors will be on call 24 hours a day to talk to patients after overdoses, Evers said.

But it won’t be near to what Hope for N.H. Recovery was providing.

“A safe place to congregate that has people with lived experience can be so necessary and empowering for people – especially in the early days of recovery,” he said.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky said that the work that Hope for Recovery has done only highlights that peer support is a vital component to recovery, which extends far beyond clinical rehabilitation.

“Peer support is one of the modalities that we need to advance,” he said. “This is like a Hydra; it’s a multiheaded problem, and we need to have a multiheaded response.”

Rapid growth

At the end of 2016, Hope for New Hampshire Recovery opened a new Manchester center, which was its sixth in a little over a year. During a ribbon cutting for the center, then-Gov. Maggie Hassan praised the group for its work.

“The really important thing that the recovery community has done is really remind people that there’s no room for stigma in this fight,” she said.

In October, 2016, the state’s Executive Council – which included current governor Chris Sununu – approved a pair of contracts that gave Hope for New Hampshire Recovery $600,000 to help sustain the centers and expand its peer recovery support services. The contracts went through the end of June 2017.

But just as the contracts were about to expire, questions were raised about the organization’s management and oversight. Employees complained they were mistreated and said some staffers used drugs at work, according to a report from New Hampshire Public Radio.

At Sununu’s request, the state attorney general’s office investigated the organization and found no criminal activity.

Earlier in 2016, Crews came under fire for appearing in a political ad criticizing Hassan for not doing enough to fight the state’s drug crisis. Under pressure, she resigned from Hope’s board of directors but later rejoined.

“With all my heart, I believe that the governor has mishandled this crisis. It’s sad,” Crews said of Hassan. “The cost of the entrenchment and bureaucracy is 429 people dying a year. That’s the cost.”

Hassan’s office declined comment for this story.

In a statement Tuesday, Sununu said he remains “deeply concerned” about the opioid crisis and was “saddened” by the news that Hope will be closing most of its recovery centers in New Hampshire.

The governor said that the Department of Health and Human Services Financial Compliance Unit had recently completed a Site Review Report for Hope, which is to be released soon. Those findings, along with Hope’s responses, will enable its contract to move forward for consideration by the Executive Council.

“It is important to ensure that organizations that will be partnering with the state have systems in place to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and provide the best services in the most sustainable fashion as we move forward to counter this terrible epidemic,” Sununu said.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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