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Midstate shelter provides recovery to women struggling with addiction

Written by Becky Metrick/Chambersburg Public Opinion | Aug 7, 2017 1:42 PM
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Bernadette Bowman, right, certified addiction specialist and case manager at Esther House, 112 Walnut Street, Waynesboro, spends time with Staci Harrison on Friday, August 4, 2017. Harrison is in recovery from addiction. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Waynesboro) -- Though still in the early stages of opening, Esther House has transformed from a salon to a shelter and recovery residence, with staff ready to combat the opiate epidemic with the resources they have.

Esther House's mission is "to provide a safe place to temporarily house women who are struggling with homelessness while providing an opportunity to overcome personal issues that may have contributed to her homelessness, including addictions to drugs and/or alcohol or fleeing from abuse."

Owned by New Hope Shelter owner Pastor Bill Burcher, the apartment-like home on Walnut Street in Waynesboro is run by Bernadette Bowman, a case manager and certified recovery specialist, and Burcher's wife Candice Burcher, the director.

Bowman said her background is in trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, and she knows there's more to beating addition than just stopping someone from taking a drug.

"If we don't get to the root of the issue and the real reason why they're going out and shooting up dope, we're not gonna get it fixed," Bowman said.

She said a majority of the people she has worked with over time are people who also have some form of mental illness.

"If you've got a car with two flat tires, and you only fix one, you're still not going anywhere," Bowman said.

Similarly to Noah's House in Fayetteville, which only houses men, Esther House is open only to women.  

"I don't think that men and women together are a good mix with getting sober," Bowman said. "There's too many distractions." 

Walking the line

Bowman's program is very structured. Residents in recovery have schedules and are monitored - and Bowman doesn't allow wiggle room. Her rules are simple, often common sense, she said, but that's important.

"They either walk the line, or I send them back," Bowman said.

Bowman is expecting to fill five of her eight beds within then next month. If she had it her way, there would already be several other facilities that she would be setting up and working out of on this mission.

"What I try to do, I try to un-institutionalize them. When they come through the door, it's homey. It's comfortable, they can feel safe," Bowman said.

She acknowledges the women might be coming from a variety of circumstances that could endanger them, but she won't let anything happen.

"I'm not like the interventions on TV," Bowman said. "I talk to them with respect. I tell them I know what they're going through, not because I've done it but because I've seen it and I've worked with it."

Community support has been key

The community played a huge role in getting the house to working condition, Bowman said. The house has been in the works for around two years, and she came into the process about 10 months ago, she said.

"The community support was pretty insane," Bowman said. "Everything that I got done here, I got done with community service, community help."

Bowman talked about several local organizations that either donated money or items, plus people who came with groups or on their own every Saturday to do the physical labor needed to get the place in working order.

Bowman also said some medical services will be brought to the house and provided for the housemates, but she does wish she could bring a medical professional on staff.

Esther House has encountered some "haters," Bowman said. She described one man who owns property nearby creating an issue "because we were putting in a 'dope house,' he called it."

Bowman talked with the man about what Esther House is, but she knows he won't be the only one complaining. What negates that is that churches, Women in Need, and several other local organizations have all come forward to help.

From here, Bowman wants to put together other programs, like a house where these women can go and move into with their kids, so that they still have monitoring and support while adjusting to battling their addictions and having the responsibilities of caring for children.

Bowman already has a program going to help these women re-enter the community and figure out housing.

Bowman said any woman who works through the program will continue to get support throughout the next year once she's completed the 90 days. That support even includes financial support for housing.  

Bowman said no property owners need to be concerned that the women who complete the program at Esther House will miss rent when they are on their own. She guarantees that through her programs, rent will be paid.

"We need the public to work with us and not against us," Bowman said. "If we keep kicking them while they're down, they're gonna continue to do what they do, because they don't know any better."

Esther House has no funding coming in, outside of the $50-a-week rent the women pay to the program, plus $25 a day for women coming out of Franklin County Jail who use Esther House as their home plan.

 They have the women use food stamps and work with local food banks to keep meals going, but Bowman knows they still have utilities to deal with.

"We're just hoping by God's grace it happens," Bowman said.

"If 25 years from now this goes huge, every community has one of these houses, that's what I'd like to see," Bowman said. "But that's what needs to be, for us to get even a tiny little hold on this. And to let (those in recovery) understand that there's hope. You know what I mean? You don't have to be sick, you do't have to be tired, you don't have to be living on the street."

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and Public Opinion Online.

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