PORT ANGELES — An elementary school teacher who has seen the effects of addiction firsthand is renovating a home so that recovering drug addicts can have a second chance.
Kelly Sanders, who teaches sixth grade at Roosevelt Elementary School, purchased the foreclosed home in September and with the help of volunteers she is hoping to have it ready to become an Oxford House by December.
“I’ve taught a lot of students over the years who have grown up in homes with active addiction and also have watched my students grow up and follow that path themselves,” Sanders said Saturday. “This is a small community and my heart just breaks for the kids and families affected by addiction, trauma, poverty and homelessness and I wanted to do my part to help with that.”
The home on Porter Street will have six bedrooms and will become the third Oxford House in Port Angeles for women and children, said Babette Markishtum, chair for Oxford House Chapter 20 in Port Angeles.
Another Oxford House for men is also expected to open in November in Sequim, bringing the total number of houses in Clallam County up to eight by the end of the year. The four others are men’s houses in Port Angeles.
“It’s saving lives,” Markishtum said Sunday. She said all of Oxford’s houses are full right now and that there are people waiting for these two houses to open. The need for more recovery housing is always there, she said.
Oxford House is an international organization that provides sober living and accountability for recovering drug addicts. Residents pay rent and take on leadership roles within their house and chapter.
People who live in Oxford House for at least a year without relapse have a more than 80 percent chance of staying drug free, a study has found.
“We’re full in all of our houses all of the time,” Markishtum said. “There’s non-stop people coming in. In one of the men’s houses they have couched two people now and there’s waiting lists of up to six people.”
Sanders said she wanted to do something to help and that Oxford House kept popping up. She was inspired to rent to Oxford House residents in part because of Jenni Tiderman, who has been drug-free since February.
Tiderman, who was homeless earlier this year, was on a wait list for Oxford House when Serenity House of Clallam County announced it would be closing its shelters. She was offered a couch at an Oxford House just before the shelter closed. The Serenity House night-by-night and family shelter are scheduled to reopen later this month.
Tiderman said she first met Sanders when she was 60 days clean. She brought her son to the Upper Room, a Saturday gathering hosted by the Independent Bible Church of Port Angeles, where she met Sanders and learned her son was in her sixth-grade class.
“I know there’s going to be so many more people being helped by this,” Tiderman said. “I’m really grateful for this.”
Tiderman said when the house opens she plans to transfer there. Where she lives now she shares a room with another adult.
“This house is going to do amazing things for me,” she said. “I’m going to have a home for my daughter to come back to.”
Sanders said she wishes more landlords would rent to Oxford House. She said she has heard concerns about renting to Oxford, but feels there’s nothing to worry about.
“Oxford cares about their reputation and they’re going to hold residents accountable for keeping it clean, doing their chores and taking care of the place,” she said. “Landlords worry about the possibility of damage or abuse to their home, but I’m more concerned about the people who need a place and a chance to get sober.”
Not only does she want to give recovering addicts a chance, but she wanted to continue the legacy of that home.
Though the home was in disrepair when Sanders purchased it, it was once the home of a woman who dedicated much of her life to raising foster children.
Joy Andrus used to live in the home before she died in 2016 at the age of 77. She adopted and raised 23 children who were in foster care in many states.
“I just knew this house could be used for good, especially with its history of being used for good in the past,” Sanders said. “It was Joy Andrus that started all that and her kids have reached out to me and said how happy and grateful they are.”
But there’s still plenty of work to be done before the house is ready for anyone to live there.
When she first walked through the home in February the basement was full of water, mold was growing and the condition of the home was so bad the Realtor was unwilling to go inside, she said.
Squatters had taken over the home and had been using drugs on the property and there was garbage throughout the house.
“To me this house just called to me when I walked through it because I believe in housing people and helping people,” she said. “It makes me so sad when I see people in need and there’s no places where they can live or places they can get help.”
She hopes to have the home renovated and furnished by the end of November and ready for people to live in by December. She’s already had help from volunteers, but said she also needs to find a contractor to help as well.
Sanders said she has reached out to neighbors to let them know that now there will no longer be addicts squatting in the house.
“There will be people here who will take care of the house,” she said. “I hope that the neighbors are going to be accepting of this in this neighborhood.”
Sanders said anyone who is interested in volunteering or working as a contractor should message her on Facebook.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].