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Sober living home focuses on acceptance, recovery despite pushback from neighbors

Posted at 4:00 PM, Mar 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 18:17:00-05

BOISE, Idaho — Living with addiction can be tough. Living with addiction without a supportive, safe place to live can make things even harder.

Many live-in treatment programs in the Treasure Valley have months-long waitlists and residential sober living homes are few and far between.

In this week's Finding Hope, Idaho News 6 sat down with some of the women who call the Hummingbird House home. It's a sober living home in a west Boise subdivision housing 10 local women in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

Owner Ashley Kinshella said a big part of her "why" in life is helping other women reach recovery like she has.

"I chose to be here because it's a family-oriented community and I wanted these women to be submersed around family and to feel like they could achieve that someday," Kinshella said. "That they could be somebody with their life, that just because their lives brushed with drugs or alcohol does not mean that they can't succeed and be something."

The women have chores, a curfew, are breathalyzed most days and are randomly drug tested a few times a week.

Kinshella said they have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who breaks house rules, which are monitored by the live-in house manager and assistant manager.

"Honestly it's been a saving grace for me. I've always tried to live alone and it ended up in relapse and feelings of loneliness, and that ultimately is not a healthy environment for me to live by myself right now; so this has been a great transitional house for me and a great place to be," house assistant manager Skyla Child said. "Everyone is very supportive of one another, and it does feel like a house full of women with the same goals and I know I can just walk down the hallway if I need to talk to somebody about any of my struggles."

The women live typical lives. Most leave for work in the morning, sit down for weekly house meetings, and are encouraged to participate in recovery programs. They often turn to each other for accountability.

"We have a group text. We'll text each other if we're struggling, we go to meetings together," Child said. "I've definitely seen people, and myself, who normally would have relapsed in the past, get through situations clean and sober by living here."

One house member, Dawn, shared with us off-camera how instrumental the Hummingbird House has been in her recovery.

"I love being sober but I'm high risk. So, ultimately, all I need is a safe place and I can be sober. And I've gotten those two things," Dawn said. "It's more than sobriety. It's a safe space and it's love. It's just a place of unconditional love and that's been hard for me to find in this world."

Kinshella said the goal is to use the house as a jumping-off point — a place to strengthen stability in their sobriety and eventually move on to other arrangements when they're ready.

Since the Hummingbird House started housing women in October, Kinshella said she's helped a handful find housing elsewhere after breaking house rules, and two have successfully moved out into their own apartments and continue with their active recovery.

Neighborhood residents push back

Although immediate neighbors have recently come around to welcome the women, their presence was initially met with pushback.

In the fall, Kinshella reached out to neighbors to tell them about their mission and eventually the neighborhood's HOA hosted a special meeting to allow residents a chance to ask questions and address concerns.

"They started harassing me and telling me how much they disapprove of this," Kinshella said.

Some residents, according to Kinshella, going as far as offering to buy them out of the home to move somewhere else.

She points out a difference between the Hummingbird House and others in the subdivision: "This home is being tested. This home is sober."

A public post on the site Nextdoor.com stirred up controversy, hostility, and hundreds of comments, ultimately, catching the attention of the Intermountain Fair Housing Council.

"They wanted the group home out," IFHS attorney Brian Stephens said. "This has a big effect on people and that's why discriminatory statements are so banned and they have so much liability under the federal Fair Housing Act when it comes to housing because what you're really saying is, 'You're not welcome here because of your disability.'"

Idaho News 6 reached out to the subdivision's HOA and they declined to comment.

Stephens said group homes housing adults with disabilities like addiction are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act.

"People suffering from drug addiction, as long as they're in recovery, are also protected," Stephens said.

On behalf of the council, Stephens sent a Request for Reasonable Accommodation to the subdivision's management and HOA and a letter educating community members on documented discriminatory acts.

"They really did the right thing because we informed them of their obligations; my understanding is they had a community vote on the subject. Some neighbors reached out to us in support of what we're doing, and they voted to grant the Reasonable Accommodation to keep the group home and to work with the group home," Stephens said. "So I see it as a win."

"The neighbors have really turned around," Child said. "We've had some really great people reach out to us and show support who in the beginning were against us, and I think that turnaround has been really, really nice."

More than anything, Kinshella hopes those in active addiction know there's a way out and despite limited live-in options like the Hummingbird House, recovery is possible.

"You can stop your drug and alcohol addiction and you can find a sisterhood or brotherhood and there are so many resources out there," Kinshella said.