Choose healing over jail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This week, the Putnam County Commission agreed to sponsor two beds at a drug and alcohol rehab site in Huntington, a smart approach for a couple reasons.
First, the obvious math makes sense. No doubt commissioners know that it costs close to $18,000 a year to store an addict, or anyone else, in a regional jail. But at the Healing Place in Huntington, it costs just $11,800 a year.
Second, the less obvious human calculus makes sense. The Healing Place opened just two years ago and is modeled on a program in Louisville, Ky. It charges nothing of the people who ask for help. The participants themselves make the place work. They prepare meals, wash laundry, scrub floors and tend a vegetable garden. And they provide the peer-to-peer counseling that sets this approach apart. As recovering addicts move through the program, they assume more responsibility and give back to those coming along after them.
The Healing Place taps the knowledge of addicts -- skills that might otherwise be wasted -- and turns them to good use -- helping people to reclaim their lives. Of 65 men who have graduated from the program since 2011, at least 45 have been completely sober one year later, a remarkable achievement.
Like the rest of West Virginia, Putnam County is being eaten up by jail bills. Putnam Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia rightly identifies addiction as a big part of the problem and understands that jail doesn't really help much.
But if you can divert good candidates to effective help, what might people accomplish?
There should be a Healing Place in every West Virginia county, or at least every region.
"This is a blessing to our community," Huntington Mayor Steve Williams says.
"There's a discipline that they have," Williams said. "They're not only changing their lives. They're turning other lives around."
In November, a fundraiser dinner drew more than 400 people and cleared $40,000 to support the Healing Place, said Bob Hansen, a founding board member. They are still working to raise another $250,000 to complete renovations to Huntington's old Lincoln Elementary School so the Healing Place can expand from serving 50 men at a time to 92. They have formed a committee to begin planning a site to serve women.
The Healing Place is always collecting donations of money, but also men's clothes, men's toiletry items, towels, twin sheets, standard pillowcases, blankets, paper towels and cleaning supplies. Donors may call 304-523-4673 for information.Miller, the Gazette's editorial page editor, can be reached at email@example.com.