In mid-October, Hope Recovery Center (HRC) reached a milestone. The nonprofit, founded three years ago by Jeremiah Saucier and a volunteer board of directors, was notified by Pierce County Planning and Land Services (PALS) that it had been approved to apply for a conditional use permit to build a residential and outpatient drug treatment facility on the Key Peninsula.
In December, the Puyallup Tribe donated $40,000 to HRC to fund a feasibility study evaluating the likelihood of raising enough money to build the facility.
When a yellow permit notification announcement was posted on the existing HRC sign at the proposed site, the KP Facebook pages lit up. Susan Freiler Mendenhall, who moderates one of the pages, said, “An informal poll shows that the group membership is about equally divided on the subject. The opposition group is more vocal, but they have concerns which do need to be addressed.”
Those concerns included fears of bringing drug addicts to the community, worry that the size of the facility is not consistent with the community plan, the location itself was inappropriate, and about the impact on traffic.
Saucier, who lives on the Key Peninsula with his wife, is the director and owner of the outpatient drug treatment facility Crossroads in Lakewood. He has openly shared his personal story of drug use, incarceration and recovery, as well as details about his goal of building a drug treatment center on the KP. (See “Bringing Substance Abuse Treatment to the KP,” KP News, July 2016.)
Saucier said the location is close to ideal. “I wanted a location that would be conducive to serenity. These people are broken, and they need a peaceful place to reconnect with themselves.”
Annmarie Huppert, HRC community relations and fund development director and a paralegal said, “This community has consistently supported a healthy community that wants its young people to be active and involved. And so Jeremiah and the board have thought from the beginning that this is the perfect healing environment to provide a place where we can work with them.”
In 2016, HRC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Lakebay Community Church allowing HRC to use their nearly 8-acre parcel on the Key Peninsula Highway NW, between the Key Peninsula Lutheran Church and Key Peninsula Middle School, as the site for the facility.
“We didn’t donate the land to HRC,” said Dan Whitmarsh, pastor of the Lakebay Community Church. “The church will hold the land until such time as HRC is ready to open, at which point the church and HRC will negotiate a fair price for sale.”
The church bought the land in 2000 and hoped to build a new church there. That permit included 35,000 square feet of building construction, a parking lot for 176 vehicles and logging nearly 6 acres, but the church decided not to move forward with those plans.
The new request by HRC is for a building with a footprint of 24,000 square feet and 65 parking places. The plan would require clearing about 3 acres and incorporates a 50-foot buffer from the highway.
“We met with Jeremiah and his leadership, and were impressed by their passion to see lives mended,” Whitmarsh said. “Many
in the church have experienced the traumatic effects of addiction in their own lives and the lives of people they love. Hope Recovery Center had a vision and a plan, and their only need at that point was a location so they could begin the process. We had land, but no real plan for how to use it. It seemed a perfect match.”
The HRC board hosted community forums in 2017, including neighborhood meetings, gatherings with elected officials and meetings with businesses to explain their vision and get input on it. HRC developed a business plan and produced conceptual architectural plans as part of the application process.
The facility would include a 50-bedroom residential treatment center behind a separate and self-contained outpatient center. Saucier expects that those coming for outpatient treatment will largely be from the Key Peninsula and nearby communities. The residential clients could be referred from elsewhere.
Typically, Saucier said, residential facilities are built to house 50 to 80 residents. Stays will likely be a minimum of one month. HRC established itself as a nonprofit to provide financial support for residents who are not ready for discharge when their insurance coverage ends.
Both the residential and outpatient programs will be multi-modal, using the biological, psychological and social approach employed at Crossroads. Drug treatment counselors, mental health counselors and help with such issues as job skills and medical and dental care will be available. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a standard part of the program, as is the case for drug and alcohol treatment throughout the nation.
“Walk-offs are really uncommon in these centers” Saucier said. “If someone decides they want to leave before staff thinks they are ready, there is a process by which the center arranges transportation to get him or her back to their home community. They are not released directly into this community.”
The approach to treatment is three-pronged, explained Huppert. First is triage. HRC will not be a part of that step, which may involve detoxification or inpatient treatment elsewhere. The second step is stabilization, which may be residential or outpatient treatment. Clients would come to residential treatment only when they have been screened and are medically and emotionally cleared for admission. The final step is re-entry—help with job search skills, getting a GED and medical, dental or legal issues.
Drug use is already present on the KP, Huppert said; a treatment center would not attract more. When the community garden was planted on the proposed HRC site last year, volunteers found many pieces of drug paraphernalia. She cited an article from the June 2018 issue of the Journal of Urban Economics that stated, “substance-abuse-treatment facilities reduce both violent and financially motivated crimes in an area, and the effects are particularly pronounced for relatively serious crimes.”
The conditional use permit application was requested under the Key Peninsula Plan Civic Use Category, Community and Cultural Services. Dick Day, owner of RJD and Associates, is a development consultant who volunteered to help HRC through the process with PALS. “I’m a runner and I met Jeremiah running. We developed a friendship. He told me his story and I gained an understanding of his heart and passion. I told him, ‘When you are ready to plow forward let me know.’ ”
During meetings between Day and PALS staff, it was noted that Pierce County does not have a specific zoning code for a drug treatment facility. “I described the project to staff as a ‘pre-homeless’ shelter, because treating drug addiction prevents homelessness, and staff may have picked up homeless shelter as the closest zoning place-holder description—fitting in with the cultural civic use of the facility,” he said. Day, after further consideration, now thinks of the project as a homelessness prevention center.
The notice from PALS said in part: “Working with County Planning and Land Services staff, it was determined acceptable to move forward with the consideration of the facility under the same terms as a shelter for the homeless, due to the impact of the drug and alcohol epidemic on homelessness in the county and our country as a whole.”
With approval to apply for a conditional use permit, there are several steps to move forward. First, public comment is invited, both via the PALS website and at meetings. The Key Peninsula Advisory Council (KPAC) was scheduled to discuss the project at its Jan. 16 meeting, but according to PALS communications director Mike Halliday, the public meeting will be rescheduled to sometime between February and April to ensure a large enough room is available to accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd and to allow more time to flesh out the proposal. KPAC will review the application and hear from the public before voting on it.
The KPAC vote is advisory and will be sent to the Pierce County hearing examiner. After a public hearing examiner meeting, likely to be several months following KPAC, the examiner will make a final determination.
If the permit is approved, HRC will work with a capital campaign consultant to assure it can raise the money needed to complete the project, according to Saucier and Huppert.
At that point HRC will begin the next steps: refining the business plan and hiring an architectural firm and other consultants as needed to ensure adequate water and septic capacity and that all of the identified conditions determined by PALS and the health department can be met.
Hope Recovery Center will host a town hall at the Lakebay Community Church, 11 Cornwall Road SW, Feb. 1 from 7 to 10 p.m.