By Eric Swanson
Nine men stand in the dining room at 911 S. Broadway, posing for a group photo.
The men are residents of Ada’s Oxford House and they are dedicated to staying sober while helping other residents recover from drug or alcohol abuse. The house opened with three residents in February, but now has 11.
“And then it filled in a hurry,” Michael Henry, president of the organization, said this week.
Mike Martindale, outreach worker for Oxford House Inc. of Oklahoma, said area residents worried at first about having recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in their neighborhood.
He said those concerns have faded because the residents have shown they are good neighbors.
“They’ll be the best neighbors you know,” he said. “They all want the same thing, and they all want to live a productive life.”
Oxford House’s landlord, Kevin Johnson with 580 Rentals, said he was immediately interested when Martindale approached him about starting a house in Ada. After researching the Oxford House movement, he agreed to let the organization rent the house at 911 S. Broadway.
He said he thinks the house is off to a good start.
“They’ve been good neighbors, great tenants,” Johnson said. “I’m even becoming friends with some of the guys.”
The Oxford House movement began in 1975 in Montgomery County, Md., when officials decided to close a county-run halfway house, according to the international organization’s website. That decision prompted the 13 male residents to rent the building and run it themselves.
The halfway house required residents to leave after six months, but the men who took over the building changed that rule, knowing that people who were forced to leave almost always relapsed within 30 days of their departure.
Today, there are more than 1,200 Oxford Houses scattered across the United States, according to the website. Each house has the same goal: Helping people stay sober.
Oxford Houses are not treatment programs or halfway houses. Instead, they are self-supporting group homes run by the residents.
Some states offer financial assistance for recovery homes through a revolving loan fund which can make loans to cover the first month’s rent and security deposit for a home in a good neighborhood. If state loans are not available, groups can pool their resources or ask a local source, such as a church or business, for start-up money.
Federal law bars local governments from discriminating against handicapped people, including recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, according to the organization’s website. That means cities and counties must treat recovery homes the same as ordinary families when it comes to zoning laws.
People may apply to live in a recovery home if they are recovering from substance abuse and have completed either a detox program or an in-patient treatment program. The house is also open to recovering people who are not at risk of dangerous withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.
The residents of each house run the property based on democratic principles, which promotes individual responsibility and holds expenses down.
Residents may stay as long as they like, but they must pay an equal share of the bills and avoid using drugs or alcohol. They must also hold down a job — or find one if they are unemployed — and help with household chores.
The residents hold each other accountable for fulfilling their household duties and staying sober. They take a group vote before making any major decisions, including whether to accept newcomers or expel anyone suspected of breaking house rules.
Anyone who does violate the rules, including the ban on drinking or using drugs, is immediately evicted following a household vote.
The goal is to create an environment where people who are recovering from alcohol or drug addiction can grow in their sobriety, Martindale said “It’s a safe environment for an individual with a substance abuse problem to get back on their feet and start living a normal life,” he said.
Martindale said that Oxford House Oklahoma is hoping to open two more houses — one for women only and a second house for men — in Ada later this year.
‘Recovery is possible’
In Ada, Oxford House residents must attend three meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous each week. The house hosts two AA meetings a week — one at 8 p.m. Monday and another from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Both meetings are open to the public.
They also do volunteer work and other community service projects.
Henry said the residents are serious about changing their lives and staying sober. At the same time, they want to thank the community for supporting them.
“We just want to make Ada proud of us and let them know recovery is possible,” said Henry, who is recovering from alcoholism. “Because these guys are real proud of themselves. They haven’t felt that way for a long time.”