Initiative seeks local sober living home

Efforts underway to bring drug, alcohol treatment programs to Shawano County
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Recovery from addiction is often a lengthy process, but it can be made easier when the road back to normalcy can be walked closer to home.

With that in mind, the Greater Shawano Area Recovery Initiative is looking at bringing sober living facilities to Shawano and/or surrounding communities so that those who have hit rock bottom in their lives don’t have to relocate to Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh and other parts of the state.

“I think all of us know someone who has struggled with drug or alcohol addiction at some point,” said Nancy Schultz, a co-founder for the initiative, at the Aug. 10 Shawano Common Council meeting. “That’s why we started this group.”

Schultz brought along Forrest, a recovering addict from Shawano, to tell the council his story of drug abuse. He is now 31, but he first started using drugs and alcohol when he was 13, being in and out of jail for most of his adult life.

Forrest said he did a lot of partying in high school and dabbled with illegal and dangerous substances, but once he graduated and got out in the world, things “took a turn for the worse.”

The rock bottom moment for Forrest came when he faced drug charges in Shawano County in May 2020, compounded by new charges from Waupaca County three months later. The courts offered Forrest the opportunity to enroll in the drug court program, and although he was hesitant at first because of the length of the program and the low success rate, he decided to go for it and went to the Jackie Nitschke Center in Green Bay.

Forrest noted that he’d been in treatment programs before, where he’d participate for the 28 days and then get out and return to his addiction, but when he went to Jackie Nitschke in December 2021, something clicked and he desired to get better. He is in the second phase of the drug court program, which can take up to two years to complete.

“Most every time I got out of jail, I burned a lot of bridges in my time,” Forrest said. “I didn’t have a stable place to live. I didn’t have much accountability. Going from the residency into the sober living home was the fresh start I needed.”

Forrest said he is looking forward to seeing a sober living facility in Shawano, noting it’s not easy having to live in one in Green Bay while making court-mandated appointments with drug court locally.

“Moving back to Shawano is going to be a big step, but I think that’s going to be OK,” Forrest said. “I think the recovery home is going to be huge for Shawano.”

Becky Edgren, another co-founder for the recovery initiative and the coordinator for the Shawano County Drug Court program, noted that the numbers of people abusing drugs and alcohol like Forrest had were “staggering.” About 500 people receive detox services through ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano, she said, and there are increases at both the city and county levels regarding drug overdoses.

There are a number of gaps in rural areas for drug and alcohol treatment. Besides housing, residential treatment services, recovery resources, peer-based support and stigma reduction are lacking in Shawano County, Edgren said.

“We have a lot of bars and fun events for people to go drinking, that kind of thing,” she said. “We have very limited activities for people in sobriety, so that’s what we’re hoping to build on.”

That atmosphere is changing. In May, Shawano held its first recovery walk recognizing people who have fought back their addictions. Now, there is a recovery resource center going into Fairview Plaza, according to Schultz, along with plans to initiate substance abuse prevention programs in the schools.

The initiative is currently making efforts to bring residential treatment housing to the area. It is working with Unity Recovery Services out of Appleton to develop a recovery house for women in Shawano and hoping to open it in October. There are also plans to bring a treatment facility for men through Core Treatment from Manitowoc, but the initiative needs to raise at least $180,000 to make that a reality.

“They need a safe, stable place to make their fresh starts,” Edgren said. “We don’t have that in Shawano.”

She noted that the initiative has tried to use hotels and places like Wisconsin House to provide treatment, but that is not very effective. It’s not a stable environment with the feel of a home, Edgren said.

The initiative has been working for two years to bring treatment programs to the area, according to Schultz, and it has been bringing in the city, the county, area tribes and a number of businesses and organizations to help make the programs a reality.

“We really see the need for this,” Schultz said. “If we can establish this in the community, that would be awesome. We are sending people out of our county, and a lot of times, those people are staying out of our county. They find employment there, and then they stay there. We would like to bring them back.”

Alderman Kevin Barkow supported the effort, noting that too many people in the area are walking around with blinders and not realizing how big of a problem drug and alcohol abuse is locally.

“At the recovery walk, I saw firsthand how many people are going through this,” Barkow said. “It can happen in our city, and we need to do something to solve the problem.”