Set Free Alaska Steps Up to Meet the Challenges of 2020
Set Free Alaska has a simple mission to support Alaskans in recovery.
This last year has challenged everyone without exception. But the specific effects of this pandemic—social isolation, uncertain employment, heightened anxiety—can be particularly disrupting for those working to overcome issues with substance abuse.
So while for many 2020 was a year to proceed cautiously, if at all, Set Free Alaska instead blazed forward in several significant ways to meet the needs of the people it serves.
“We have come in with an attitude that in times of crisis there is opportunity for growth in service,” says Set Free Alaska Executive Director Philip Licht.
“We started talking with our team right from the beginning: let’s deal with the emotion of this crisis, and let’s put fires out as we need to, but what can we do to serve our community, what can we do to grow and expand, and what opportunities might be presenting themselves?”
The Quarantine Question
For many of Alaska’s vulnerable populations, the need for a safe space to quarantine was an issue from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
For most residential rehabilitation facilities, those pursuing treatment reside in congregate living environments, so it was important that those persons entering the facility who were at risk of carrying the virus had a reliable, safe place to quarantine before entering treatment to ensure the safety of the other residents.
“We were struggling to get people in [to a residential rehabilitation facility] because of the requirements and needs for them to quarantine to know that they were COVID-19-free before bringing them into that congregant living setting,” Licht says. “As a result, clients weren’t able to access the service they need and programs were struggling with their census numbers dropping, putting them at risk of closure.”
So Set Free Alaska reached out to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ (DHSS) Division of Behavioral Health and brainstormed with the division’s director, Gennifer Moreau-Johnson, about potential solutions.
“I knew of people who owned lodging and restaurants that were struggling because of decreased travel and business, so we proposed a plan to partner with them to provide lodging and meals through a public/private, nonprofit partnership,” Licht says.
“I love the partnership between treatment providers and the Department of Corrections because it brings in a rehabilitative aspect to the correctional institution and criminal justice system. There’s a growing understanding of wanting to not just punish and protect but to rehabilitate and help people learn, and grow, and heal so they don’t recidivate and/or reoffend.”
“We were able to set up a contract through some grant funding from the state, and we’ve been housing people, we’ve been feeding them, and we’ve been providing crisis stabilization treatment services while the quarantine with the goal to get them to the next level of treatment that they need.
“It’s been an incredible program.”
The partnership launched in May, and due to its success, funding from the state was approved through December, Licht says.
In July, two months after establishing the quarantine program, Set Free Alaska hosted an open house at its Compass residential treatment center in Homer. Compass is unique in that it is currently the only residential substance abuse facility in Alaska in which men who are seeking treatment can live with their young, dependent children.
“We partner with the local court system quite a bit, and there’s a program we have in Mat-Su called the ‘Families with Infants and Toddlers Court,’ and it’s a partnership between the courts and the [DHSS] Office of Children’s Services and various treatment providers,” Licht says.
Compass, owned and operated by Set Free Alaska and located in Homer, is unique in that it allows adult men seeking help to keep their young children with them at the residential treatment facility.
“The facilitator of that court asked us to consider allowing men to bring children into a residential environment… they’re seeing an increase of men who need treatment but also have custody of their children.”
The Set Free Alaska team agreed that the need was significant. “If there is an individual, whether it is a male or a female, and they have sole custody of their child and they have a substance abuse issue, they want to get help, but if that means having to give up custody of their child, that’s a huge barrier to them getting help,” Licht says.
“We’re able to remove that barrier and bring them into an environment together where they can get healing, and there are also great opportunities to develop bonds, work on parenting skills, and other things like that while they’re going through the treatment process.”
Rehabilitation and Recovery Residence
Also in 2020, Set Free Alaska was awarded four contracts from the Alaska Department of Corrections, one of which is providing a forty-bed residential treatment program at the Goose Creek Correctional Center.
“I love the partnership between treatment providers and the Department of Corrections because it brings in a rehabilitative aspect to the correctional institution and criminal justice system,” says Licht.
“There’s a growing understanding of wanting to not just punish and protect but to rehabilitate and help people learn, and grow, and heal so they don’t recidivate and/or reoffend.”
Moving forward, Set Free Alaska is also developing the Recidivism Reduction and Recovery Program, which combines treatment, case management, peer support, workforce development, and building community connections.
“We have come in[to the pandemic] with an attitude that in times of crisis there is opportunity for growth in service. We started talking with our team right from the beginning: let’s deal with the emotion of this crisis, and let’s put fires out as we need to, but what can we do to serve our community, what can we do to grow and expand, and what opportunities might be presenting themselves?”
While many of those services are already provided by the nonprofit, Licht says what’s missing is the “recovery residence” piece. “You might have heard it called sober housing, or transitional housing, and it’s a really big gap in our continuum of care and in our communities,” Licht explains.
This kind of housing is essential for individuals who need safe, stable living conditions because they have been recently release from incarceration or residential treatment program, are at high risk of incarceration due to addiction problems, or do not have access to another sober housing option.
According to Licht, “Our goal coming into this next year is to develop this program and either construct or purchase a long-term recovery residence where we can take people from the high intensity resident treatment… and continue to provide support and treatment; work with them on relapse prevention; work with them on their employment; and help them get back on their feet for a six to eighteen month period of time with the goal of launching them out into the community where they can really get their feet under them, and be employed, and have some rental history, and all the things that they would need to move forward in their life.”
Tasha Anderson is the associate/web editor for Alaska Business.