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'It's gonna save lives': Neighbors weigh in on proposed recovery home for women on Indy's north side

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Posted at 2:12 PM, Apr 08, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — A holistic sober living home for women with children could be opening its doors in what used to be the Indy Hostel on the north side of Indianapolis.

South of Broad Ripple in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood, several houses now have red and white yard signs that read "No Rezone."

The signs showcase the residents of the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood who disapprove of Overdose Lifeline's request to rezone the lots of 4903 and 4907 Winthrop Avenue as a holistic recovery residence for women and their children.

Ami Rice, who says she's lived in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood for about 7 years, told WRTV she applauded the nonprofit's efforts to open a home for women struggling with addiction who could also bring their children. However, Rice says she believes Overdose Lifeline has not wisely chosen selecting this area.

"There's an active problem in our community with drug trafficking and drug abuse and alcoholism," Rice said.

Meridian-Kessler is about 2 miles from Broad Ripple Avenue, where several clubs and bars line the popular nightlife district.

Rice is a local doctor and says she and other board-certified physicians she's spoken with believe that putting newly-recovered addicts so close to places that could trigger them to relapse would not be conducive to their recovery.

"I am supportive of the need for a women's recovery center," Rice said. "I think that they've (Overdose Lifeline) chosen a very unfortunate location for these women."

Heather Barney has been sober for over 22 years and has lived in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood for 12 of those years. Barney points out that Carvel Club, a place for AA and other 12 Step recovery groups, is around the corner. She says she has gone there often over the years.

According to Google Maps, Carvel is a roughly 7-minute walk from the 4900 block of Winthrop Avenue.

"There's people with 50 years of sobriety in there," Barney said.

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The property that was formerly known as Indy Hostel could soon be a women's recovery center. Overdose Lifeline is seeking rezoning approval from the Department of Metropolitan Development for the red nine-bedroom home located at 4903 Winthrop Avenue.
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The residence under rezoning proposal at 4907 Winthrop Avenue is pictured above.

Justin Phillips, the executive director of Overdose Lifeline, told WRTV it's not about proximity to alcohol or drugs that causes addicts to relapse.

"There is no academic research to support that exposure to liquor stores or other alcohol-serving establishments increased setback amongst those with recovery," Phillips said.

"I've been in recovery a long time. And I promise you, driving by a liquor store, living near a liquor store, is not what's going to get me drunk," Phillips continued. "It's not having appropriate tools. And the purpose of this house is to give women a community of support and tools."

Erin Mooney, another longtime Meridian-Kessler resident of 12 years, says she looks at the women's recovery home as a chance to help.

"I look forward to the opportunity to be of service to them when they move in," Mooney said.

Mooney also believes the home Overdose Lifeline wants to open would not only be a place for the community to step up and help during the national addiction crisis, but it's also an opportunity for women who are parents or guardians looking for a stable, sober living facility.

"A lot of them won't go to sober living because they can't take their children with them. They have a newborn that they can't take. And so, this gives them the opportunity to have a safe place to raise their child and in a recovery-oriented home," Mooney explained.

Mooney works in a recovery facility in Greenfield and shares that the number of homes for women recovering from an addiction is low. It's rare that a sober living home will accept women with children.

"They're needed all across the state; women's homes are needed all across the country. We're so short on them. Every single day, I'm trying to find an open bed for a women's home in Indiana, Indianapolis especially," Mooney explained of her job overseeing business development for sober living homes.

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A row of houses have "No Rezone" yard signs off of 49th Street on the north side of Indianapolis.
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A residence in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood has a "No Rezone" yard sign on its property.

Mooney thinks her neighbors with "No Rezone" signs in their yards are not aware of the core functions of the women's residence Overdose Lifeline is working to open.

According to the request for rezoning in the Department of Metropolitan's planning report, Overdose Lifeline's women's recovery residence is about providing a continuum of care and structured living for mothers who happen to be struggling with their sobriety during the early stages.

The goal of the home is to help keep mothers from relapsing by decreasing their dependence on social services. There's also a focus on health and wellness to reduce their housing instability.

The program would require a mandatory 30-day stay, daily programming that includes therapy, 12 Step meetings, life skills training, career-building, and mindfulness activities.

Opponents of the home have different ideas. Rice says, instead, that she thinks women struggling with their addiction need to depend on social services and have a fuller care plan in moments like these.

"What these women really need is comprehensive care. All of the research has shown us (physicians) they need social services, they need mental health services, and they need child care," Rice said.

Phillips, however, contends Overdose Lifeline follows the National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) guidelines, federal law, and recovery experts in their decision to open such a home with the services they're offering.

Phillips says Overdose Lifeline chose those two parcels of land for the women's recovery home because it was close to the IndyGo bus line and the Monon Trail.

"People in early recovery often don't have their own transportation, and it's really one of the main requirements when you look at housing," she said. "The guidelines around providing housing programs for individuals who need supportive housing is access to public transportation."

The following imperative factor for Phillips was the home's proximity to a grocery store and other recovery support centers, such as Carvel, which has been in the area for decades.

In talking with Rice and another Meridian-Kessler resident who did not want to be named, they say another concern for some of the residents with No Rezone yard signs is the overall tone of the meetings between Overdose Lifeline and the community.

According to Rice, when she brought up parking issues and safety protocols, Overdose Lifeline "became defensive."

"It's been very much like coming in and dictating terms rather than cooperating with us as a community and we are good people. We have social workers and teachers. I mean, it's just like a good middle-class kind of a neighborhood. A lot of small families and a lot of us have family members who are dealing with addiction. I'm a physician. I have patients who deal with addiction and so obviously, we want what's best for these women," Rice explained.

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Emma Clust, the land use committee chair for the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association, says it's a solid mix of residents who are either in support of or against the women's recovery residence.

"I'd say there's a vocal contingent of opposition. And those people have made their voices quite loud. And then there are a lot of neighbors in the immediate vicinity, who are quietly supportive, and sort of choose to go about voicing their support a little differently," Clust explained.

Clust pointed out that when these two properties previously operated as a hostel, the vetting process for who came into the community was nowhere near what it would be for a women's recovery home.

The properties allow for up to 42 guests, but Overdose Lifeline proposes using the homes for 18 to 20 women. The women will also be randomly drug tested, whereas travelers who came from all over the world to stay at Indy Hostel were not.

"I feel like it's a less risky choice than the hostel was at times. I mean, the hostel wasn't always a great neighbor. I think sometimes people look through rose-colored glasses at the past," Clust said.

Clust said the Indy Hostel hosted concerts and weddings and would create parking and loitering issues.

When it comes to Overdose Lifeline's women's recovery residence, Clust thinks her neighbors will find they will barely realize it's there, instead of how aware they had to be of the hostel.

"I think that there are a lot of people suffering in the community that needs a resource like this. And, you know, I hope that this will be a stable place for people to get back on their feet for years to come," Clust said.

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The house at 4903 Winthrop Avenue.

Barney says she came from a family in a high-income bracket, graduated from college, and was only 25 when she became an alcoholic.

"It's not about the drive to stop or the lack of willpower, or whatever, it is truly a disease," Barney explained.

Barney says if it weren't for "Pathway to Recovery" giving her a place to live in a structured living environment when she started her journey to sobriety over 20 years ago, she wouldn't have had any place to go. She says she's one of the lucky ones.

"I just progressed really fast in my alcoholism," Barney explained. "I was almost gone."

Pathway, at that time, typically only allowed homeless veterans in their facilities.

"I had $5 going into that facility, and I've come out sober. I own a home, full-time job; I got professional degrees," Barney said. "If you give the people a place and a chance, it's gonna save lives."

Barney has been sober for 22 years now. As a longtime resident of Meridian-Kessler and an Overdose Lifeline volunteer, she can't wait to welcome the women with open arms and give back.

"These places, they're amazing. They are critical to any city's infrastructure, and there are so many [recovery homes] around us people don't know about," Barney said. "There's going to be a lot of good coming back."

Mooney says she tells those who oppose the women's recovery residence that it's simply a structured home.

"It's just a place for them to live and take care of their children. And, you know, be a member of society. That's what we are all striving for as humans," Mooney said.

Phillips echoed the same sentiments.

"Everyone deserves an opportunity," Phillips said. "Recovery residences can and will contribute positively to the neighborhood and the community and there's plenty of academic research to support crime doesn't increase. Drug use doesn't increase," she continued, "We're just going to be a house of women who are there to help each other change their lives."

A public hearing about the rezoning proposal for the women's residence is scheduled for Thursday, April 14.

The City of Indianapolis has granted $700,000 to Overdose Lifeline to support this program. The nonprofit was also awarded an undisclosed amount to purchase the properties through a Community Development Block Grant.

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.