Gemeinschaft Home’s New Case Manager Discusses Need for Local Women’s Residential Program
This past summer, Michelle Roberts joined the Gemeinschaft Home staff as a case manager, working with female participants in the Day Reporting program.
A recent graduate of Blue Ridge Community College (with a degree in Human Services), Roberts had been working as an unpaid intern for two semesters and then as a paid summer intern at Gemeinschaft Home, which made her transition into the new position rather seamless.
Over the last decade, Roberts has faced her own cyclic battle with addiction, recovery, and relapse. During this time, which began in her teenage years, Roberts’ use of heroin eventually resulted in criminal charges and incarceration. While she experienced moments of positive growth—usually after participating in a mandated recovery program—inevitable relapses led to multiple overdoses, periodic homelessness, and re-incarceration.
As she grew older, Roberts began to recognize that the loop was never-ending and that the limited number of outcomes from a heroin addiction—overdose (death) or incarceration—were no longer tenable. She re-established connections with her family that had been lost during her teens and early-20s, and she credits her parent’s effort to learn more about substance abuse (e.g., joining an Al-Anon group) as making that possible.
She points out that they started to see her not as a deviant person intent on breaking the law, but as someone who fought a heroin addiction that led to criminal behavior. Roberts also acknowledges her husband Josh’s supportive role in her work to remain substance free for years.
Roberts is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work at Mary Baldwin University, and she hopes to forge a career path that will enable her to draw on her lived experiences as well as her formal education in order to serve others—particularly women who struggle with substance abuse.
The Day Reporting program provides such a context for Roberts to assist women who face the same issues that have shaped her own life. However, it also endows with her with unique insight on the precise obstacles to success for participants in the program. While the structure is effective overall—e.g., required drug screens, mandatory individual and group sessions, case management, etc.—the day-reporting framework itself is inadequate and/or unnecessarily cumbersome for many participants to successfully complete the program.
A safe, stable home environment and access to reliable transportation are the two primary barriers debilitating women in the program. Roberts argues that “women need a safe place to foster their recovery,” where they are away from “unhealthy relationships and the temptation to use and where recovery becomes an all-day, every-day focus, rather than a couple of hours a week.”
A full-time residential program for women would achieve this purpose, yet there is no such service available in the local area, representing a dire need in our community, especially for women exiting incarceration. Many of the clients Roberts works with in the Day Reporting program are homeless, which creates a daily challenge to survive as well as to adhere to program guidelines and mandatory appointments.
Several of her clients often find a place to sleep at night in one of the local shelters, but such accommodations are never guaranteed and present even further complications. “It’s hard to focus on recovery when you’re unsure where you’re sleeping tonight,” Roberts says, and, even for those who have a home, “most have suspended drivers licenses or no vehicle or live outside of the city limits, where there is no public transportation.” Additionally, having a home can also mean living with a toxic partner or among others who are using substances.
Roberts stresses that a residential program would give women a support system right at home, offering a safe environment that is substance-free and away from unhealthy relationships. With basic survival needs met, women enrolled in a residential program would be able to give their full attention to growth and recovery, while immersed in supportive community that fosters both accountability and responsibility. Without adequate support, the likelihood of relapse is nearly assured; for those under supervised probation (as is the case for Day Reporting participants), this means a positive drug screen and, in most cases, re-incarceration.
Roberts believes that a residential program would have given her a better opportunity to deal head-on with her addiction and to learn valuable tools for coping with life after incarceration in a more productive way. Today she hopes to be part of building such a facility and giving other women a second chance at life.