The Compass men’s residential addiction treatment facility, located about 15 miles east of Homer, Alaska, had an open house on Saturday, July 25, 2020. The facility is slated to accept its first clients in about a week. (Photo courtesy Lindsey Cashman)

The Compass men’s residential addiction treatment facility, located about 15 miles east of Homer, Alaska, had an open house on Saturday, July 25, 2020. The facility is slated to accept its first clients in about a week. (Photo courtesy Lindsey Cashman)

Residential addiction treatment facility for men opens outside Homer

Men from the Homer area and beyond seeking recovery from addiction can soon step through the doors of a residential treatment center in the Kachemak Bay area.

Compass, the residential facility, is located near Mile 15 East End Road and will be ready to accept its first clients in about a week, said Philip Licht, executive director of Set Free Alaska, the organization that established the center. The facility celebrated with an open house last Saturday.

Set Free Alaska is a religious nonprofit organization based in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley that operates multiple centers for both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment services. Christianity is a core part of its treatment programs, but the nonprofit also accepts non-religious people into its outpatient and residential facilities.

Its arrival in the Homer area has been a long time coming. Licht approached the City of Homer back in early 2019 about trying to establish a residential addiction treatment facility in town, after having met and worked with the local Southern Kenai Peninsula Opioid Task Force. That task force had identified addiction treatment for men as the greatest need in Homer currently.

From there, it was a series of swings and misses as the Christian nonprofit worked to secure funding and searched for a place to put the facility. The Homer City Council ultimately decided not to provide matching funding for the project, but Set Free Alaska was awarded a large state grant regardless. Then the organization set its sights on a conditional use permit to place the facility within city limits, but abandoned that idea when a city resident filed a notice of appeal of the Homer Planning Commission’s decision.

Next, Set Free Alaska tried to secure a location off Portlock Drive near East End Road outside of town, but residents pushed back against having the facility in their neighborhood, arguing that they had covenants, or rules governing the use of real property, that prohibited the kind of development the treatment center would represent.

Finally, the nonprofit settled on the former Timber Bay Bed and Breakfast off East End Road east of McNeil Canyon. Some neighbors in that area were opposed to the treatment center as well, but the sale went through in late 2019 and renovation began.

The spread of the novel coronavirus in Alaska has slowed some of the construction to get the former lodge ready to accept live-in addiction treatment clients, Licht said. That’s on top of the normal delays that come with any construction project, he said.

“We’re excited,” Licht said. “… We’ve worked so hard to get to the beginning.”

In all, Compass is allowed to have a capacity of 16 total people in the facility. That includes men receiving treatment, and any children that might come with them. There are more facilities that accommodate women seeking addiction treatment who have children with them, Licht said, while there are few options for men with children seeking those services.

The Homer program will accept clients from the southern Kenai Peninsula, as well as from around the state.

Reunification between men and their children is less of a propriety in the health and social services sphere in general, Licht said, and it’s something Set Free Alaska wanted to keep in mind when establishing this center.

Compass will start out with three or four clients once the building is ready, Licht said. From there, the program will admit one additional person a week as the staff get their feet under them, he said.

“We kind of anticipate an average of 12-13 men and then a couple kiddos at any given time,” Licht said.

There will be a 30-day grace period during which men with children must be at the center alone before their child or children can join them. This is a standard practice, Licht said, but every family circumstance is different and Compass may make exceptions if necessary.

Licht has previously said that the facility will have security measures in place, and 24-hour wake staff. Residents will be driven to and from town for things like doctor appointments by Set Free Alaska staff in vehicles owned by the organization.

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum (who is originally from Anchor Point and graduated from Homer High School), Mayor Ken Castner and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Kelly Cooper were among those who attended the open house last Saturday.

“To have this facility here is just such a tremendous win for the community and for the state,” Crum said at the open house.

Castner said it’s on the shoulders of a society’s leaders and members to lift people up, and help them where possible.

“I am so happy that we have such an active group of people working from many different fronts,” he said. “From the faith-based front, from the social services front, from just the community front of trying to understand and cope with addiction. All different types of addiction, but especially opioid addiction.”

While it was working on the Compass facility, Set Free Alaska also opened an outpatient treatment center on Ocean Drive in town. Licht said that operation has started more slowly than the organization anticipated, but that it is still serving a small number of people.

More information about both the nonprofit’s outpatient and residential programs, an applications for the Compass facility, are on Set Free Alaska’s website at setfreealaska.org.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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