Sober support program expands amid rise in alcohol abuse

Feb 9, 2018

As reported by Joann MacKenzie, Staff Writer, Gloucester Times:

In a recent community needs assessment conducted by local health officials and other stakeholders, alcohol, not opioids, emerged as a greater issue, says Jennifer Beloff, director of Action Inc.’s Client and Housing Services.

The assessment was carried out by the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative and the Gloucester Health Department High Risk Task Force.

“There’s been tremendous emphasis on the opioid crisis. But in the community (now) we see alcohol addiction as greater than opioids,” said Beloff, in an interview with the Times. “You hear of opioids because of the immediacy of overdose. Drinking is more of an overtime progression, so alcohol has flown under the radar. We all saw the same trends and needs. We were getting people into treatment, but for people in recovery there was nowhere to go. And in the community (now) we see alcohol addiction as greater than opioids.”

 As of Feb. 1, Beloff assumed responsibility for managing the continuation of ‘Our Place,” the city’s 15-month pilot sober support space for substance abuse recovery. “The baton’s been passed (from the city) to us,” she said, in discussing new expansion plans for Our Space, which is a one-day-a-week sober drop-in program launched by the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative in 2016 with public and private funding.

The city’s learning about the underserved needs of and rise in alcohol addiction are in line with a September 2017 investigation published by the JAMA (Psychiatry) Network, which found “substantial increases in alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and DSM-IV alcohol use disorder constitute a public health crisis and portend increases in chronic disease comorbidities in the United States, especially among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

In recovery, Beloff stressed, an addict is fragile and has to be handled with care. The idea of the program, she said, is to “provide a safe, sober place where participants receive the support services they need to determine their own particular recovery path.”

Action, which has served as the city’s fiscal agent for the program, has wrap-around services, so it can assist on many fronts. Otherwise, participants can rely for their individual needs on the program’s collective partners: Wellspring offering career and job training, The Open Door providing food, and the Cape Ann YMCA providing activities such as Yoga.

So far, the program, which currently meets every Wednesday at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Gloucester and has thus far served 98 people (individually), has been so successful that grant applications are afoot for funding to expand the program to three days.

Staffed with a certified drug and alcohol counselor and a recovery coach, Our Space did not, as some might assume, evolve out of the Gloucester Police Department’s nationally adopted angel program, nor should it in be confused with The Grace Center.

It is a strictly sober environment that does implement the AA model, in that it invites participants to share their stories and read from the AA Big Book. Otherwise, the course of recovery support is determined by the participants. Breakfast and lunch are provided by the Open Door and participants are free to come and go as they please.

“You can go in there on any given day and find someone quietly painting, while someone else works on their resume or career building skills,” Beloff said.

In a press release, city public health director Karin Carroll said: “The community at large, with the support of the mayor’s office, have worked hard to see ‘Our Place’ come to fruition and fill a vital gap in the city’s recovery services. We are thrilled to have found a partner in the community who is committed to sustaining this important program for people in recovery.”

As Our Place transitions to Action, all services and program operations will remain the same. Action Executive Director Peggy Hegarty-Steck, who praised St. John Church’s generosity for making the space available, framed early recovery, in particular, as a time of great vulnerability to relapse.

“Readjusting to life after treatment can be challenging, so having a safe, sober (supportive) place to go is critical,” she said.

For more information about Our Place, contact Jennifer Beloff at 978-282-1000 ext. 114 or

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