Oxford House in Mitchell set to provide addicts with new self-run recovery path

May 26—MITCHELL — A new path to recovery for those battling drug and alcohol addiction has arrived in Mitchell.

Tucked in a residential neighborhood sits Mitchell's first Oxford House that will soon welcome residents who are beginning their recovery journey.

Unlike traditional rehab facilities with teams of counselors on hand, an Oxford House puts all the trust and responsibility in its residents on their road to recovery. As Oxford House Director of Communications Jackson Longan put it, the houses are "democratically run" by the residents to empower each other to overcome drug and alcohol addiction.

"When we put people together, we teach them the time-tested, evidence-based Oxford model that's been around since 1975. We teach them that model of participatory democracy and encourage and empower them to work together to maintain the home," Longan said. "They gain social skills, life skills, and most importantly, they gain self-efficacy."

There are roughly 3,500 Oxford facilities in over 40 states. Since its inception in 1975, the nonprofit organization has been expanding across the country with men's and women's homes. Longan said the expansion into Mitchell was based on information provided by local industry professionals and stakeholders who saw a need for an Oxford House.

Mitchell is the latest South Dakota city to welcome an Oxford House, joining Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Aberdeen.

"There are a lot of factors that go into expanding into new communities, but most of it has to do with talking with people and professionals in the community who are in the field and see a need. Once we get members interviewed and accepted into the home, we train them on the Oxford House model," Longan said.

As part of the Oxford House rules, all members must democratically support expenses and costs of residing in the home and immediately expel anyone who relapses and uses drugs or alcohol. The self-run model has shown it helps residents start to "believe in themselves" and lead a productive and meaningful life free from drugs and alcohol, Longan explained. Average stays can range anywhere from a year to four years or more.

"To live in an Oxford House, you have to maintain your sobriety and play nice with others. You can't be disruptive and stay in an Oxford House," he said.

The application process entails existing residents reviewing the applicant and voting on whether they are a good candidate to join the home.

The house sits in a residential area near downtown Mitchell and blends in like the rest of the homes around it. According to the organization's website, the all male Mitchell home has a capacity of six members.

During Davison County felony court proceedings, a common culprit repeat drug offenders will point to for playing a major role in relapsing is having no access to a drug-free living environment. It's a frequent question Judge Chris Giles asks defendants before considering granting an opportunity at probation instead of a prison stint.

For those respective individuals seeking recovery, Longan said the Oxford model "insulates them by putting them around other people who are in recovery and understand the struggles they are facing."

The homes have provided a lifeline for people who have a "checkered" criminal record but are committed to overcoming drug or alcohol addiction, Longan said. Finding a rental unit with multiple felonies that show up during background checks can limit a recovering addict's housing options, but Oxford homes are among the few living arrangements that offer a drug-free, affordable environment.

"From time to time, people will come to us from all sources. We'll get people coming from treatment centers, referrals from drug courts and we may get referrals from churches. A lot of times, people may have a bit of a checkered background. We get them into productive living through spiritual growth and our recovery program," he said.

How effective have Oxford homes been for its residents? A 2016 study conducted by DePaul University sought out to determine the success rate of Oxford House residents staying sober. Of the 897 residents the study analyzed over a period of 27 months, it showed 13% had relapsed. According to Longan, residents who stay in a house for over six months have an 80% chance of recovery.

While the Oxford House model has set many up on the path to a successful recovery, Longan said expanding into a new community comes with its own set of challenges, specifically, the stigma of a home occupied by residents battling substance abuse.

"Time is on our side and it will show we are good neighbors," Longan said.

Despite any potential negative stigma surrounding the new recovery home, Longan hopes the organization's mission to foster change and spiritual growth in each resident's life will shine a light on what an Oxford House is all about.

"We're really interested in seeing people change their lives and grow. And that's what it's about," he said.