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A new direction in sober living

Updated: 
December 19, 2013 - 3:30pm

An apparent landlord-tenant dispute between Alahou Clean &Sober and its landlord, Tante Urban, has resulted in Urban taking over the current clients until a new organization steps in. Meanwhile, Alahou Clean &Sober Executive Director Sandra McCoy is working to move a downsized program to another location.

Alahou Clean &Sober is a 3-year-old nonprofit clean and sober housing program that takes in clients, including those on conditional release, parole and probation. The only long-term housing facility on the Big Island for individuals with a dual diagnosis of addiction and mental illness, it relies on government grants and private donations, said McCoy, who retains the nonprofit as its chief executive.

It had a $343,900 budget last year, according to a grant application it submitted to the County Council. The council gave it $10,000 of the $30,000 it requested in the current budget.

McCoy, the only paid staffer, said she earns $50,000 annually as an addiction specialist. She said she worked without pay the first two years of the program.

Alahou Clean &Sober’s lease was terminated. Late last month, McCoy left Urban’s property, the Mahina Townhomes located at 75-5708 Alahou St. in Kailua-Kona.

The dispute erupted over the condition of the laundry room, McCoy said. She said laundry facilities are an essential part of the operation because some tenants work and need to have uniforms washed daily, others are incontinent or ill and sheets need to be washed daily. She said she purchased washing machines when the facility’s broke down and Urban was unable to reimburse her because Alahou Clean &Sober was behind on the rent.

Two former clients who asked that their names not be used accused McCoy of stealing money and leaving the facility. She denies the allegations, adding she doesn’t handle the money or the mail for Alahou Clean &Sober; a task left to an administrative assistant.

“There isn’t any money to steal,” McCoy said.

She said Alahou Clean &Sober has $1,243 in the bank. That’s not dissuading her, however, from moving forward to secure space for 16 to 20 tenants as Alahou Clean &Sober regrows.

“I don’t plan to close it. I plan to regrow it,” McCoy said. “I won’t go away. I will downsize and open up just a couple of homes.”

Urban is now monitoring the 40 or so tenants at his property with assistance from Cathy Manewa, a former Alahou Clean &Sober administrative director. He will continue to do so until Hawaii Sober Living and Recovery Center, a new nonprofit, takes over next month.

“Having clean and sober housing options for individuals pursuing or in recovery are so important for our community,” Urban said. “I was determined to keep this because these people need a safe place to stay — one that’s accessible and within walking distance to stores, banks, health care and jobs. These facilities help them get a start.”

Hawaii Sober Living and Recovery Center’s mission is to provide safe housing and a structured sober living environment that supports the goal of recovery, said board member Marella Hakkei.

Hawaii Sober Living and Recovery Center will be democratically self-run and self-supported by the residents, who are required to pay a program fee of $355 a month to rent the furnished apartments. With relatively little professional supervision, this is a more community-based option and the self-support allows participants to build efficacy, said Manewa, who will serve as the center’s volunteer program director.

Hawaii Sober Living and Recovery Center’s funding sources come from the program fees and donations, she said.

In her role, Manewa will provide assistance with Department of Human Services and medical needs, as well as basic case management.

Those interested in the program must fill out an application and undergo a two-step interview process, including an interview with a residence council. An individual can live there as long as he or she doesn’t drink alcohol or use drugs, pays the monthly program fee, abides by the house rules and curfews, and shares in household responsibilities. Residents may also participate in recovery groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and weekly community meetings, Manewa said.

Both Urban and McCoy invited West Hawaii Today to visit the facility to interview tenants and check on their well-being.

Joel Lewis has lived at the Mahina Townhomes on and off for about eight years. Without a sober living facility, Lewis said he would be homeless. Its location in the heart of Kailua-Kona which makes it easy for him to walk to work and take care of other needs. Lewis thinks more places like this should exist because they make a difference in the lives of those battling drug and alcohol problems.

Lewis described McCoy as “a passionate person who really tested the boundaries at times, but did her job.” He expressed admiration for McCoy and Urban, saying they’re sincere about helping people with substance abuse problems. He added, “Both have saved lives and made a difference.” He also called Manewa “an unsung hero.”

Still, Lewis said, “No program is perfect; Alahou Clean &Sober worked for some.” He has chosen to stay at Mahina Townhomes because he’s looking forward to the new direction, where “we police ourselves.” He thinks this method will work because of the strong sense of bonding with others who share common abstinence goals and the collaborative relationship to do better.

Jonathan Baculpo used to be a drug dealer on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. Before going into recovery, he first sought help from his family. Soon, his problems became “unmanageable” and he got arrested, “a blessing in disguise” that spurred his willingness to change his life. After four months of treatment with the Big Island Substance Abuse Council, he came to Alahou Clean &Sober. He’s been at Mahina Townhomes for almost three years.

“For me, this keeps me away from those I used to hang around with,” he said. “I love them dearly, but this works because there are people who I can relate to, are pursuing the same goal or can support me if needed.”

All involved with the facility past and present were “trying to do their best,” Baculpo said. He remains optimistic about the Hawaii Sober Living and Recovery Center.

“Like life, sobriety is what you make of it,” he said.