A new addiction group home for women may open its doors within the next few months in southern Pittsylvania County once the proper permits are acquired.
Gary Robertson, the admissions director of Hope Center Ministries in Axton, said the property they hoped to move into — an old school building — was the optimal size and location for a group home.
The group already runs a men’s addiction treatment center in Axton, one of the only long-term residential group homes in the region.
Robertson said the number of people in need of treatment is “mind-boggling.”
“I’ve got individuals who are calling everyday to try to get in to our men’s center,” he said in a phone interview. “The needs are more than I could’ve imagined initially.”
The need doesn’t stop with men. Robertson said his wife works locally with incarcerated women, many of whom have already expressed interest in the proposed center as there are such few options.
“They’ve been through it enough to know they can’t trust themselves just by themselves,” said Robertson.
He said, at times, the women tell his wife, “If they will let me, I will stay in jail beyond when I’m supposed to so I can come to the center and not get out on my own.”
Although more attention has been drawn to drug addiction as deaths from the opioid crisis have increased over the past decade, studies have shown rural areas remain vulnerable due to a lack of programs to assist people.
Pittsylvania County is no exception.
During the county’s planning commission meeting on Nov. 8, the majority of its members commented on the need for more programs in their own districts.
Commission chairman Robert Motley thanked Robertson for their desire to open the treatment center, calling it “important.”
Planner Janet Mease, of the Callands-Gretna district, told Robertson she hoped they would consider opening a center based in the northern portion of the county as well.
“There is so much need up there,” she said from her seat in the courtroom.
“Unfortunately, there’s need everywhere,” Robertson responded.
The planning commission had held a public hearing on Nov. 8 for proposed changes to the zoning ordinance that would add group home addiction treatment centers to the list of uses allowable in residential areas with a special use permit.
No residents spoke during that public hearing.
If the women’s center comes to fruition, it will follow the same 12-step, faith-based program used at the men’s center.
The men’s center offers its clients two options: an 8-month program and a 12-month program.
Each one incorporates a work program that typically leads to employment after clients graduate from the home, said Robertson.
“A lot of those guys enjoy what they’ve been doing, and just go straight on into the workforce,” he said.
Robertson said they’ve tried to limit the financial barrier that often prevents people from receiving help through the workforce program.
With the year-long program, individuals have a $700 upfront fee and the rest of their stay is taken care of as they essentially work off their expenses. This allow people with less available funding to enter the program.
“The people going through the program are helping pay for their own recovery,” said Robertson. “We’re about looking for reasons to help people rather than reasons to keep them out.”
The 8-month program costs $700 per month, enough to make up for the four months they aren’t working in the program.
Prospective clients don’t have to be clean once they check in, but must remain clean throughout the entire program or else they lose their spot, said Robertson.
“To start, we help them through that withdrawal process, then we hold them accountable,” he said.
Robertson said the timeline for opening the women’s center largely depends on the permit process.
Pittsylvania County Community Development Deputy Director Karen Hayes said the board of supervisors will have to hold another public hearing about the proposed ordinance changes before voting on the proposal.
If the board passes the changes, Hayes said the group would have to go before the planning commission again to request a special use permit. The planning commission will then review the request and make a recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals — the body that would ultimately decide if the permit will be granted.
The public hearing is expected to take place at the board of supervisors December meeting.