PORT ANGELES — For the first time in his sobriety, Miles Stayton of Port Angeles is moving into a place of his own. He is preparing to graduate college and is holding a steady job with Clallam County.
He has been free of drugs and alcohol for 28 months, most of which he has spent living at one of the five Oxford Houses in Port Angeles. The homes each provide housing for seven to nine recovering addicts.
“My life totally changed,” he said. “I’m no longer that leech on society.”
He and many other residents credit Oxford House — a worldwide organization that provides housing for recovering addicts — with saving their lives. They say the homes provide a supportive family of recovering addicts who hold each other accountable and teach each other the skills needed to be productive members of society.
The houses also provide structure for residents, which they say their lives lacked previously. Tenants take on roles such as president, comptroller, secretary, shore coordinator or treasurer and each house is run as a democracy.
Houses have weekly meetings where each resident has a say in what the house is doing and who is allowed to move in.
Whether someone who is in a medication-assisted treatment program can move in is up to each house. For someone to move in, they need approval from at least 80 percent of a house’s residents.
Residents are also tested randomly for drugs at least once a week and residents perform pill counts to ensure others are using their prescribed narcotics as prescribed.
If someone tests positive for drugs, residents say they have 15 minutes to pack their belongings and leave.
Each month, representatives from the five houses meet to discuss the Port Angeles Oxford House chapter’s finances, if there have been any relapses, upcoming community events and volunteer projects. Chad Westenhaver is chair of the Port Angeles chapter.
Among the top concerns raised at the April meeting is the need for more Oxford Houses in Port Angeles.
After April’s meeting, Stayton said he has been talking recently to his housemates about leaving the home that has kept him sober.
“Oxford is a part of who I am and they are the ones that got me clean and sober,” he said. “There’s a part of me that’s nervous that I’m moving on.”
He is stable in his recovery and feels the need to give another addict a chance at the same opportunity he had, he said.
Stayton leaving means there will be a brief vacancy, which has been rare recently, residents said.
Waiting lists are long and residents all say they feel terrible turning people away from the program that saved their lives.
Eric Simms has lived in an Oxford House for more than 8 years, longer than anyone else in Port Angeles.
He said being in the program and helping others get clean has been the basis of his recovery. Helping others at Oxford House keeps him clean, Simms said.
“We interview people constantly — people from treatment centers, prison, people trying to get into recovery,” he said. “When I have to tell them ‘you’ve been accepted, but we got to put you on a waiting list’ it breaks my heart, because that might be the one thing that sends them back out there.”
This hurts Simms, because he knows that if someone can stay in an Oxford House for a year without a relapse, they have a more than 80 percent chance of staying drug free, referring to a study that found only 13 percent of Oxford House residents relapsed.
His home has about two dozen people on its waiting list.
“We are saving and changing lives,” he said. “We have people in Oxford who are in school, who actually hold a job.”
It’s not uncommon for residents to make the president’s list or honor roll at Peninsula College, he said.
Among those residents is Jeffrey Haley, who recently made it on PC’s president’s list.
Haley had used drugs for 25 years and spent time in prison, but has been living at an Oxford House for the past 7 months.
He said it’s difficult to even approach potential landlords about turning a rental into an Oxford House.
“When you think about renting to a bunch of recovering drug addicts, eh, that doesn’t sound good,” he said. “It’s hard to find housing to find landlords you can educate.”
What people don’t realize, he said, is that the houses have a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol and houses prefer to stay ahead on their bills.
Mike DeRousie, an Oxford House landlord, said it’s difficult to find renters as good as the Oxford House residents.
The house he rents to is ahead on their rent, keeps their yard tidy and handles most problems themselves, he said.
“Really, a landlord couldn’t ask for much more,” he said, calling it not only a good investment in the rental market, but also a good investment in the community.
DeRousie said purchasing the house was mostly his wife’s idea. They knew someone in recovery and wanted to do something to help others trying to get off drugs.
“One of the best things for an addict is being around other people who are clean and going through the same thing,” he said.
For Amy Redner, who has lived at Oxford House for much of the past year, it’s being around others going through the same situation that has helped her stay clean since Jan. 14, 2016.
“The women in Oxford have taught me things I didn’t learn growing up,” she said. “They taught me how to be responsible, accountable and reliable.”
She is the treasurer at her house and is responsible for taking care of the house’s bills, something she didn’t know how to do until she moved to Oxford.
She said Oxford House residents showed her love and cared for her when it seemed like nobody else would.
Redner wants to help others get into recovery, but is saddened that there aren’t enough houses in the area.
“I know where they are coming from,” he said.
“I know how big of a difference Oxford could make,” he said.
For more information, visit oxfordhouse.org.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].