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Toward new days, sober ways
Sabrina kept herself afloat by diving to the bottom of dumpsters.
She survived on soggy scraps and slept under sheets of trash, drowning in a drug addiction that swallowed dreams, then spit them out.
For years, Sabrina roomed with rats in rusty metal boxes.
“I was a dumpster-diver girl,” she said. “I loved to shop, eat and sleep in a dumpster.”
The alternative was jail – a home away from the home she never had – and Sabrina split time behind bars and on the streets.
Memories of a mother she hardly knew faded with each fix. The addiction contributed to her son’s death.
A dam had burst on Sabrina's life and nobody could stop the flood.
“My dad was always there for me, but he couldn’t help me at the time because he was afraid to be around me because of the people I ran with, the people I used to hang out with,” she said. “My dad was scared for his life.”
Sabrina (her last name was omitted for anonymity purposes) received a lifeline in October, when she moved into the O’Hana House in Bremerton, a sober-living facility operated by the Port Orchard-based West Sound Treatment Center.
The waterfront house, which opened Oct. 1, was transformed from a run-down building to a fully functional living area by WSTC to provide shelter for homeless women who are seeking to reroute their lives.
It will receive additional upgrades next spring with the installation of a dock and an outdoor children’s play area.
“All the windows had been busted out and there were raccoon prints on the walls,” WSTC Director Robin Lund said, describing the state of the house when work to fix it began in July. “It was in really, really bad shape.”
Bremerton resident Jim Adrian owns the house, which had been vacant for three years, and his son Justin completed a large portion of the renovations.
The Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council supplied a grant for supplies, as did Boeing, and a slew of community organizations made contributions. Kitsap Community Resources assembled work crews to clear the site, while Soroptimist supplied housing products such as linens and towels.
“It was a collaborative effort, everybody really pitched in,” Lund said.
A second chance
Demand for residency is high.
Currently at maximum capacity with 13 residents — eight women and five children — the house is divided into three units with plans for expansion.
Rooms are designed for two adults, although mothers are eligible to receive a private room to share with their child. Referrals come from the Department of Social Health Services, homeless shelters, in-patient programs and other community organizations.
Those who live at the O’Hana House come from particularly troubling backgrounds, Lund said, and some of the women who arrive have been sober for just two or three days.
Most are recovering methamphetamine addicts. There is no limit to a resident’s length of stay, but Lund believes 18 months is enough time for most residents to get back on their feet.
“The women that we’re seeing here are the women that nobody else will take anymore,” Lund said. “They’re sick of it; they’ve already been to in-patient, out-patient, up-patient, down-patient. People are done working with them, they are just frustrated. They’ve kind of given up on them.”
Residents pay $250 a month plus $50 per child and are required to open a savings account and save 10 percent of their earnings. Additionally, they are assigned weekly chores and must purchase and prepare their own food.
Overnight guests are not permitted, although overnight and weekend passes may be earned after 30 days of sober living.
Case managers and chemical-abuse counselors assist with job searches and lead group exercises that focus on character building, social skills and healthy living habits such as brushing teeth and washing hands.
“A lot of the gals we see either never had those skills to begin with or they have to learn them again because they’ve been out there living like animals for a really long time,” Lund said. “This gives them a supportive environment at a slower pace so that we can really, really work with them. We’re not rushing them through.”
O’Hana translates to “family” in the Hawaiian language. In the broad sense of the term, it means “no one gets left behind.”
But the challenges associated with sobriety — and sharing a roof with people after living on the streets — can be difficult, particularly upon arrival, for some residents.
Sabrina struggled to communicate with her housemates when she first moved in, unaccustomed to sharing her feelings. She continues to ride that learning curve and now calls the women around her “family.”
“When you first move in, it’s hard at first,” she said. “Once you get to know each other, it gets easier.”
Some of the women now attend church and most are pursuing careers, either via job searches or by going back to school. Sabrina is working to earn the GED she never obtained as a teenager.
“They all work together to hopefully either get back into college or find a game plan so they don’t return to homelessness,” Lund said.
Autumn, who lives in the house with her 6-month-old son, is grateful for the support group and second chance at life.
She begins school in March, hoping to become a licensed practical nurse, and she has put to rest the days of drug abuse and “couch surfing.”
The supplies and support West has received since moving into the O’Hana house are helping her become a better mother.
What does she treasure most about living in the house?
“Having a place to call my home,” said Autumn, cradling her son, who was fast asleep.
“It hasn’t been like that for a long time.”