Respite House opens 2nd halfway house in Valparaiso

VALPARAISO — Respite House has opened a second halfway house to serve men recovering from addiction.

“We started this in 2017, and we opened it in April of 2021,” Mitch Peters said. “In that time, according to the coroner’s records, there were 163 deaths from overdoses and alcohol- and drug-related deaths. So that’s the reality of what we’re dealing with.”

“These people actually died while we were trying to get this going,” Peters said during an open house for the new location.

Volunteers worked 6 days a week for eight months to make Respite House’s location on Union Street a reality, Project Neighbors Executive Director Paul Schreiner said.

He and Peters began discussing their joint effort to build the new facility while working out at the gym.

“I’m hanging out in a gym like a gym rat, thinking about my next tattoo, and the next thing I know, I’m spending five years getting this thing built,” Peters said.

The need for the second location is clear.

“We have problems in this community like every community. The difference is we’re willing to come together on behalf of those that are marginalized and unfortunate in our community that we are trying to provide for,” Peters said.

“Our children are dying because of the disease of addiction,” he said. “It is essential as a community that we come together in this effort. We have shown our ability to do that in this instance.”

Peters’ ex-wife, Lita Peters, is executive director of Respite House, overseeing both locations.

From the time the first location opened on Dec. 17, 2009, the board envisioned opening a second location somewhere in Porter County. It took longer than expected.

Respite House has had a waiting list since the original house opened.

Getting that facility in shape for residents was a lot of work. Mitch remembers being on the roof during the Popcorn Festival, nailing shingles into place, while hot air balloons floated overhead.

“Heroin was so huge then,” Lita said. Addiction treatment then was following the same process as for alcoholism, following the 12-step program. That has evolved.

“It’s hard to help them learn how to live a new life,” Mitch said.

Many of the residents are sent by a court order, giving them six months to get their act together following time in jail. Some have been Mitch’s clients; he’s a criminal defense attorney.

Some stay as long as two years. If the resident isn’t making forward progress at that time, it’s time to leave so someone else can use the bed, Lita said.

Their stay is meant to transition the men into normal life, free from addiction. Respite House doesn’t offer addiction counseling, but there are a number of options available to residents at other agencies, said Pedro Torres, director of the new Respite House location.

“We don’t take anyone who’s detoxing,” he said. Those men are referred to a medical professional.

“When you’re in addiction, you’ve pretty much burned a lot of bridges,” Torres said. That’s the value of a halfway house. Respite House meets their basic needs so they can focus on overcoming the addiction and settling into normal life.

“Every client is different,” he said. Once a resident arrives, he’s required to get settled into a treatment program, whatever it might be.

“What we really want them to do is dabble in all of it and see what works,” Torres said.

The men have a morning meditation time together and a daily check-in to share their highs and lows. Everyone eats dinner together, too, unless they’re at work.

On Tuesdays, the men get a life skills lesson. On Wednesdays, they hear from a recovered addict. On Thursdays, they have art therapy.

As the men address their addiction, their physical health isn’t neglected.

“It’s amazing how as they start taking care of these substance abuse issues, they’re taking care of their health,” Lita said.

New residents are referred to either HealthLinc or North Shore Health Centers to get checked out. Often, they have physical issues along with addiction.

Residents are tested for HIV and hepatitis C as well. Random drug tests are also routine.

Respite House has been so successful that others have sought advice from the agency, Mitch said. The agency gladly shares forms, policies and procedures, along with lessons learned along the way. “We have sat down with anyone who asked us,” he said.

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