This undated photo shows the home around Mile 15 East End Road near Homer, Alaska that will serve as a new residential inpatient treatment facility for Set Free Alaska, a religions organization based in the Mat Su Valley bringing addiction treatment to the Homer area. (Photo courtesy Jessica Jones, Set Free Alaska)

This undated photo shows the home around Mile 15 East End Road near Homer, Alaska that will serve as a new residential inpatient treatment facility for Set Free Alaska, a religions organization based in the Mat Su Valley bringing addiction treatment to the Homer area. (Photo courtesy Jessica Jones, Set Free Alaska)

Set Free Alaska forges ahead with plans for addiction treatment center outside Homer

After about a year of searching for options, a religion-based addiction treatment organization out of the Mat-Su Valley has found a homer near Homer.

Set Free Alaska, a nonprofit that provides addiction treatment services through inpatient residential treatment and outpatient services, has been trying to establish a new inpatient residential treatment center specifically for men in the Homer area for the better part of a year, ever since Executive Director Philip Licht collaborated with the local Southern Kenai Peninsula Opioid Task Force.

The organization officially closed on a piece of property 15 miles out East End Road at the end of November, Licht said. Set Free Alaska now owns the building that was previously the Timber Bay Bed and Breakfast, and Licht said renovations are slated to start this winter. He plans to be able to offer inpatient treatment services to a small number of residents by April or May.

In speaking with Licht, the Southern Kenai Peninsula Opioid Task Force had identified inpatient treatment for men as the biggest need in the Homer community right now. Originally, Set Free Alaska sought to establish a center in town, and was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the state to help set it up. The city of Homer, asked by Set Free to contribute $175,000 in local matches for the purposes of applying for the grant, eventually decided against helping with the funding.

The organization still won the grant and moved ahead, submitting a conditional use permit application to remodel a space within city limits on Pioneer Avenue. A local resident then filed a notice of appeal of that permit in May, so Set Free Alaska withdrew its application.

From there, Set Free eyed a piece of property off Portlock Drive about five miles down East End Road, but neighbors in the area pushed back, hiring a lawyer and arguing that their neighborhood covenants prohibited any kind of commercial development in the area. The property Set Free Alaska was looking to buy was a former bed and breakfast establishment.

Finally, the organization identified the Timber Bay Bed and Breakfast as a potential property. When neighbors in the area found out, they also pushed back. At a community meeting held at the lodge in October, many of them said they didn’t want the residential treatment center in their neighborhood. Some cited concerns with security at the facility, while others said they feared their property values will go down.

Licht said there have not been additional meetings with the neighbors in the area of the lodge, but that he is willing to sit down and talk with people who reach out to Set Free Alaska with concerns.

Now, the focus is on the remodel of the building. There’s not a whole lot that needs to be done to it, Licht said — the main thing will be making the building ADA compliant and installing a sprinkler system. Set Free Alaska has already submitted its planning permits to the state Fire Marshal. Those plans have to be approved before renovations can start, and then the building has to be approved through a final inspection, Licht said.

This typically takes a few months to happen, which is why Set Free Alaska set a target of April or May for admitting the first few residents to the treatment program. The program will start off with just three or four men, Licht said, and will build to capacity over time.

Licht said there have already been a few people from the Homer community identified as potential candidates for residency in the program. He estimates 50% of the total participants in the inpatient treatment will be from the Homer area or the Kenai Peninsula. Others will likely be from the Mat-Su Valley and from Anchorage.

Licht explained that because there are so few inpatient addiction treatment centers in the state, all of them end up serving people from all over the state. For example, Licht said the residential addiction treatment program for women in the Mat-Su has a few residents from Homer.

In the meantime, Licht said people will also be able to access outpatient services in Homer starting around January. Set Free Alaska has leased office space in a building on Ocean Drive. There, people will be able to access needs assessments and work with counselors on anything from working through trauma to relapse prevention, he said. Outpatient services dictate group or individual counseling of up to 19 hours a week, Licht said, while inpatient services require 20 hours a week or more.

Residents in the inpatient program will also learn life skills like cooking and budgeting, and will be prepared to enter the work force once they graduate the program.

“Our home is not a medical home,” Licht said, which means Set Free Alaska can’t accept participants into the inpatient program who have serious medical conditions or who are still detoxing.

Staff at the inpatient treatment center will transport residents back and forth to town for regular doctor visits and other needs, Licht said.

In order to meet the needs of both the inpatient program and outpatient services, Set Free Alaska has hired several new staff members from the Homer area. Amy Smith, a Homer resident for 30 years, will serve as the outpatient program manger, while Homer resident Cassi Sheppard will be the office manager for the outpatient services on Ocean Drive.

The program manager for the men’s residential treatment center is Michael Raymond, a Homer resident since 2012. He had 12 years of experience working in residential treatment facilities prior to moving to Homer, according to a biography sent by Set Free Alaska. Raymond has also studies at the Alaska Bible Institute. Dori Hagen will serve as the lead clinician for Set Free in the Homer area. She is a licensed counselor and has lived in the area for more than 25 years.

Licht said these leadership positions were filled through connections he made with people in the almost year’s time he has spent visiting Homer while working to get Set Free Alaska established here. He said hiring people from the local community will end up serving people in recovery better in the long run.

“I think people who live in Homer will understand the community a lot better,” Licht said. “My goal would be to hire as many people as possible from Homer because they know the community, they know the resources, they know what’s there. … I think there’s a real value to that.”

Set Free Alaska has a handful of other positions that still need to be filled for both the outpatient services and the residential treatment center. There will be a job fair held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12 and 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 14 at 1130 Ocean Drive, Suite A. The jobs being offered are: house aide, night aide, food coordinator, mental health clinician, associate program manager, receptionist and case manager.

While Set Free Alaska’s practices are based in Christianity, the organization serves anyone regardless of religious affiliation. It receives donations as a nonprofit, but also earns money through Medicaid and Medicare through billable hours.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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