A new housing project is in the works for McHenry County that aims to offer affordable living to those struggling with addiction who are trying to stay sober after leaving treatment.
The project, a new six-unit affordable housing facility, would be part of the housing program run by the nonprofit New Directions Addiction Recovery Services.
The project will consist of six two-bedroom apartments, with the goal being to have them at 900 square feet, Executive Director Bobby Gattone said.
“We’re not going to have a whole lot of real fancy extras in there,” he said. “But they’ll be nice, new apartments and much more affordable [than] anything else in town.”
The new development does not yet have a specific location, but is planned for McHenry County, Gattone said. Some places being looked at include Algonquin, Woodstock, Crystal Lake and McHenry.
“We are committed to within McHenry County,” Gattone said.
The goal currently is to find and close on a property in the next nine months, a process that started with the McHenry County Board’s recent approval of a $980,000 Advance McHenry County grant, Gattone said.
Through partnerships and breaks from contractors, it’s expected the $980,000 from the county will be able to fund both the land and the building, Gattone said.
“It’s ambitious. I’m not going to lie,” he said. “We’ve had so many recent renovation projects, … so we’ve got a few trusted partners.”
The new development will add to the organization’s collection of living spaces throughout the area. Those include a few halfway homes in Crystal Lake and the former PADS homeless shelter in Woodstock, which was converted into another place for sober living, he said.
The organization is non-clinical and provides supportive sober living, Gattone said.
Long-term sobriety is a difficult thing to maintain in general, said Laura Crain, program coordinator with the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition. And that was made harder after the pandemic saw substance abuse increase “across the board,” she said.
The access to substances increased, and with it, groups ranging from youth, men and women all saw increases, Crain said. Women saw the most significant increase, particularly with alcohol, she said.
“We have a lot of evidence of an increase,” she said. “Treatment providers can’t even keep staff at the level they need to see the number of people coming in for services.”
The most common substances abused in McHenry County include alcohol at the top, followed by opioids and cannabis, the latter of which is commonly found in youth, Crain said.
Opioids get much of the attention, though, due to spikes in overdose deaths in recent years, Crain said.
In McHenry County, opioids cause the most overdoses, particularly fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid that is between 80 and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s website.
Last year, the county saw 45 overdose deaths, down from 51 in 2020, McHenry County Coroner Michael Rein said. So far this year, the county has had six confirmed overdoses and five others pending confirmation, he said. That compares with 16 deaths in the first four months in 2021 and 13 in 2020.
Even with the pandemic in 2020, which saw an increase from 38 in 2019, the peak for McHenry came in 2017 with 78 deaths, Rein said. That year was significant for both the county and the country, Crain said. Overdose deaths hit more than 70,000 in 2017, up from 63,632 in 2016, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those deaths also don’t show the whole picture, Crain said. Alcohol, for example, sees deaths or injuries related to traffic crashes or other accidents, she said. Improving the tracking of that information is also part of the county’s response, she said.
“Those numbers are still high,” she said. “Those are the numbers we need to capture next.”
Following the deaths in 2017, McHenry County, along with several other parts of the country, began a variety of programs to help people with substance abuse, Crain said. These include A Way Out, a coalition of law enforcement agencies and medical professionals that New Directions supervises, and enhanced tracking methods to respond quickly to when a spike in overdoses in an area is happening, she said.
New Directions was created about 10 years ago after its members identified a problem of substance abuse in the area, Gattone said. But with several organizations sprouting up in recent years, the area is much more equipped to deal with the issue, he said.
The single biggest need now is providing living arrangements to people looking to maintain their sobriety, Gattone said.
When somebody from New Direction relapses, Gattone said, it often comes after they leave the program – returning for example to a neighborhood where a particular substance is prevalent or an ex-partner who isn’t in a healthy situation.
Adding a dozen more beds will allow the organization to lower its rent for tenants, which should hover around 75% of market rates, Gattone said. Currently, it costs about $35 a day to house a client, he said.
“We’ve come a long way in recent years,” Gattone said. “I think we’re doing much better in McHenry County now. … Having affordable long-term supportive housing for beyond their first year of sobriety, I think it’s going to prevent a lot of relapses.”
Over the past two years, those who stay more than six months in the sober living program are three times as successful at staying clean as the ones who do not stay that long, Gattone said. Those who stay a year or more have a 95% chance of success.
“New Direction is looking at it from every angle,” Crain said. “It doesn’t stop with treatment. … You need long-term stability to be successful.”