First substance abuse recovery house for women opens in Harrisonburg

By Kyle Kirby, Contributor

January 1, 2020 marked the opening of Harrisonburg’s second Oxford House – the city’s first substance abuse recovery house specifically for women. In November 2018, Oxford House Summit was established for men in recovery. The new home, exclusively for women, is called Oxford House Trillium.

Oxford House is a global, non-profit organization that supports those recovering from substance abuse as they get back on their feet. Though it has an impressive international network, the Oxford House’s effectiveness comes from its close-knit, home-by-home system.

“Oxford could be a very valuable tool in dealing with drug cases,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst said.

The system differs from a halfway house in that it’s democratic and self-sustaining. All occupants get an equal vote in weekly house meetings, must maintain a job, contribute to the group’s living expenses, remain sober, and of course, “help with chores,” said Travis Jobe, the outreach coordinator for Oxford House in Western Virginia. Part of Jobe’s job is helping fill houses and train the occupants on how to live there. He helped establish both the Summit and Trillium houses.

Jobe is a Winchester, Va. native, and began his journey in one of the organization’s houses there. He has since lived in many different Oxford Houses due to his position in outreach. 

“You’re a part of it,” Jobe said. “The biggest thing is accountability. It gives you peer-driven accountability. As an addict I suffer from not liking authority, I grew up that way.” But now, in the house setting, “I have five people I live with that care about me and sit me down to tell me [when] I should do something different,” Jobe said.

Trillium is a plant native to North America, featuring a single-stemmed, three-petaled flower ranging in color from white to deep red. The flower is said to represent purity, beauty, and recovery.

At the moment, Oxford House Trillium has five of eight spots filled. Anyone can start an Oxford House, they must simply prove they meet the criteria: being in recovery, finding a home with suitable living space, and applying for a free Oxford House Charter. The organization typically sets a minimum of six people to start a house, but as long as there is enough living space, there is no maximum number of occupants.

Amongst the occupants there are six elected positions: president, coordinator, controller, housing services committee representative, secretary, and treasurer. If more people are in the house they have the same voting power as the elected positions. 

Strength in Peers, a local organization dedicated to supporting individuals recovering from substance abuse, trauma, and mental health issues, frequently refers people to Oxford House. According to executive director, Nicky Fadley, some of the participants at Strength in Peers who’ve successfully lived at the Oxford house have been able to better engage in recovery services. 

She credits the supportive and stable housing model for these outcomes. 

“Focusing on recovery and wellness can be really difficult when you are living in a shelter or on the street,” Fadley said. She explained that for people working to overcome substance abuse challenges, having a safe place to live can make a big difference. 

“More recovery houses are desperately needed for both men and women,” she said. “This is the first and only sober group house for women in the city, so it fills a big gap.”

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