Guest Column: Addiction recovery work benefits all of us

TIM GANNON PHOTO | This building, across the street from town hall, will be subject to a public hearing shortly.
TIM GANNON PHOTO | This building, across the street from town hall, will be subject to a public hearing shortly.

I am the owner and operator of Mainstream House Recovery Homes, the subject of last week’s “Guest Spot” article. I would like to respond to author Jerry Bilinski’s many random and false finger-pointings with regard to self-pay recovery homes that do not fall within the realm of a 501(C)3. His many haphazard, seemingly made-up-on-the-spot allegations are reckless and have the potential to put in jeopardy the lives of many individuals who, without a structured recovery home, could potentially have nowhere else to go.

I was raised in Riverhead and was a potato farmer until I was 30. Feb. 23 will mark my 12th year of recovery. I have gone through New York State Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor training and I presently hold a CASAC-t certification. Mainstream Homes for Men is a member of AARCH, the Association of Addiction Recovery Care Homes of New York State, which is recognized by the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, or OASAS. For the past six years I have been donating time every two weeks and have organized fundraisers for a nonprofit in-patient treatment center located in lower upstate New York that serves Long Island and the tri-state area. My manager and I both regularly attend OASAS training sessions and are actively involved on a daily basis within the local recovery community. I believe I can safely say that I have a good idea of how alcohol and drug addiction recovery works, especially in the realm of self-help 12-step fellowships.

I would point out that the so called War on Drugs, which has actually been a war on drug abusers, has by no stretch of the imagination been a success.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, 20.6 million people age 12 or older were classified with substance dependence or abuse in 2011. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 and the American Society of Addiction Medicine have identified substance use disorder as a chronic mental health disease requiring long-term treatment for lifelong health and wellness.

With regard to treatment for substance use disorder, individuals and families have a wide range of choices in Suffolk County for their loved ones. Without naming programs, they range from expensive ($30,000 to $40,000 per month) self-pay for-profit rehabs, to state- and county-funded “not-for-profit” Medicaid programs for the developmentally disabled or mentally ill. Every one of these entities, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and all the other 12-step family support programs and the support services of Mainstream Homes for Men serve a vital interest in the recovery process.

Mainstream serves a particular niche within the recovering community. We receive referrals from all the other licensed programs in Suffolk County, including the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Mainstream Homes also regularly works with the drug courts of both Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as with the East End Regional Intervention Court. Individuals we serve in this group are in early recovery from substance use disorder. They are our sons, our brothers, our husbands, our co-workers. If they return home to their neighborhoods at this vital stage of their recovery process they are at a very high risk of recidivism. I believe this explanation answers Mr. Bilinksi’s question of “who really benefits.” The beneficiaries are our loved ones who cannot return home for whatever reason because they will relapse.

Society benefits, all of us benefit.

I have been operating Mainstream Homes for Men for the past nine years. I opened Mainstream House after realizing there simply were not enough clean, safe and structured recovery homes for the large population of men coming out of in-patient services. We pride ourselves on giving, at the very least, the minimum — and in many cases much more than the minimum  — amount of square footage per occupant, pursuant to town code. During these past nine years I have watched, with great joy, many men get their lives and families back. I have watched as they grew into responsible, employable and tax-paying citizens. And yes, this occurred through a for-profit, self-pay recovery home. With the exception of about 10 percent, all of the men who have come through Mainstream Homes have been self-paying. The few who have needed public assistance have done so for short periods of time to help get them started in their journey back into the “mainstream” of life. I have done two studies in my nine years and found that of all the men who stayed with Mainstream for at least 10 months, 80 percent are still clean/sober today. Mainstream is experiencing success as a for-profit. Those continuing recovery numbers are through the roof.

In his piece, Mr. Bilinski insinuated that my business should have governmental oversight. While I agree that there may be some unscrupulous entrepreneurs out there taking advantage of people, Mainstream is not one of them. Mr. Bilinski should not be picking on one of the operators doing it right. In fact, he should be going after NYS OASAS for refusing to regulate and begin going after the bad guys who are buying up dilapidated homes in poorer communities and filling them to the brim while collecting big bucks from the Department of Social Services. Mainstream went into business because of them.

Mr. Bilinski also suggested that Mainstream Homes is nothing more than a boarding house. The clients who go through Mainstream are paying for a service that teaches them, once again or in many instances for the first time, how to live a normal, productive and responsible life. Mainstream is based on the 12-step recovery process. Upon arrival, all men — no exceptions — must attend at least 90 meetings in 90 days. They must have a sponsor from whom they can get encouragement and with whom they can share difficulties. Meeting attendance and sponsorship are documented and recorded. Before 9 a.m., the men are required to be up and engaged in positive activities such as working, looking for work, participating in out-patient services, volunteering, going to school or other constructive pursuits. These activities are also verified, documented and recorded. This is enforced through checks of the houses throughout the day. Personal hygiene, responsibility for household chores, cleanliness and even conflict resolution between housemates are also part of the daily regime.  These activities are all part of teaching personal responsibility and are the heartbeat of what happens every day at Mainstream. In addition, Mainstream regularly conducts random toxicology screenings and breath analysis.

The allegations made by Mr. Bilinski would lead one to believe that Mainstream is filching dollars from hardworking taxpayers when in actuality Mainstream Homes is assisting men in the growth that returns them to the workforce, where they become contributors to the tax system rather than leeches on the system caught in a vicious cycle of reliance. The real hypocrisy, is when individuals like Mr. Bilinski stand on a soap box and shout that they know better than all the other professionals who have been in this “war” since the 1950s and that his way is the only way, the same way through which he is collecting a paycheck. Does one type of chemo fit all cancers? In this field, a good clinician must maintain a high level of open-mindedness. This may come as a surprise to you, Mr. Bilinksi, but you and I and the Riverhead Town Board are on the same side in the war on drugs. Come down off your soap box and join us.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans age 18 and older — about one in four adults —  suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Mr. Bilinksi serves a population of the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. Mainstream Homes for Men serves another niche of recovering individuals that Mr. Bilinski is not able to serve. We should not be pointing fingers. We should be collaborating.

Regarding the issue surrounding the impending town vote on the use of 755 Main St., the proposed change is from a commercial use to a single-family dwelling. This vote is not a public referendum on sober homes. It is to revert the property back to its original use: a single-family dwelling. The vote has nothing to do with regulating the running of a recovery home; to do so would be in direct opposition to two federal laws.

Further, as a self-pay recovery home, this house would remain on the town tax rolls. Operation of the property by a nonprofit entity would merely create a tax vacuum. Further, the house will remain under the same regulations that apply to all other rental permit homes such as number of inhabitants based on square footage, CO2 and fire detector installation, etc. Mr. Bilinski’s insinuation that the home will be nothing more than a repeat of the recent overcrowding and illegal use of a home in Polish Town is ludicrous. Last Thursday, I called Mr. Bilinski and left a voicemail inviting him for a tour. To date I have not have not heard back from him. So, thank you, Mr. Bilinski, for writing to the News-Review and giving Mainstream Homes for Men the opportunity to share with the community what we really do. Well-run sober homes not only save lives, and help keep our communities safer, but protect the taxpayers’ investment in treatment services.

In closing, I would like to again extend an open invitation to Mr. Bilinski to accompany me personally on a tour of Mainstream-operated homes, meet the residents and speak with past residents. I’d like to extend this invitation to any member of the Riverhead community. Finally, anyone reading this article who has a loved one, family member, friend or  co-worker who is struggling with substance abuse — or suffers from it themselves — should feel free to contact me at 631-764-3003. I will do whatever I can to point you in the right direction to find help.


Robert Hartmann is a Riverhead resident and founder and CEO of the Riverhead-based Mainstream Homes for Men, which provides housing and support for addiction recovery.