BROOKSVILLE — For the men with substance abuse problems who live at Covenant House, there is hope.
The faith-based, not-for-profit ministry that operates the home on Broad Street uses a three-phase program to work with men to break the grip of addiction, which can lead to crime and incarceration, and help each man find a solution that will work for him in re-establishing a normal life. Shorter programs are available as well.
"We have a three-party covenant," said the Rev. Fred Hinson, executive director of the 3-year-old ministry, "a covenant between God, between us and our residents — that we're going to walk with them in sobriety so that we can help them overcome addiction and dysfunction. They bring a willingness and a desire to get over that addiction or dysfunction. We bring with us the unconditional love of Christ and the tools they need."
According to its website, Covenant House "uses evidence-based best practices as defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, rigorous research studies, established program analyses and a faith-based licensed psychologist.
"The treatment includes a 12-Step Transformational Model specific to faith-based recovery and Covenant House, with cognitive-behavioral principles and accountability for individual actions, acceptance and spiritual growth."
The residence, which houses 18 to 20 men at a time, is an extended ministry of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Hudson, where Hinson is pastor. It is supported by other local churches and is open to men who are nonviolent, not sexual predators and not fire starters. Referrals to the ministry are often made by the courts, attorneys, pastors and family members. Detox patients are also referred by hospitals.
The facility is rented from the Nature Coast Baptist Association. A similar facility in Pasco County helps women with addictions.
The vision for the ministry came when members of Hinson's church, including assistant pastor Sherwayne Phillip, who serves as the director at Covenant House, saw a need they felt they could meet.
"We were looking at the number of young men in our congregation that were needing more intensive help," Hinson said. "We were trying to reach out. We began to pray about what we could actually do to help individuals who are looking for that second chance."
At Covenant House, a second chance is what residents receive.
Phase 1, which takes 90 days, begins when the individual is brought into the program. He is asked to cut off all ties to the outside world during that time. Residents learn life skills, employment skills, financial management, anger management and information about substance abuse and relapse prevention.
Phase 2, which can last from six to 12 months, builds on the first phase.
"They've gone through our Jobs for Life curriculum; now they're actually getting back into the workforce," Hinson said. "At that point, we monitor them and work with them on independence. They are still required to engage in 12-step meetings."
In conjunction with the jobs program, the men begin forming businesses of their own.
"One of the things we teach is that there is value in every one of us and God gives us the resources that we need to do what we need to do," Hinson said. "What's absolutely incredible is that we've got men who've got tremendous skills, and they come back and give in the ministry."
Some of the work done by Covenant House residents, such as catering, selling barbecue dinners and detailing cars, provides scholarships for individuals entering the program.
Phase 3 is considered after care, where the ministry develops a plan for the individual. While they have been working with a sponsor in the earlier phases, in the final phase they become a sponsor themselves while continuing to attend three support meetings each week.
"We recommend Phase 3 for another 12 months," Hinson said. "They're living independently on their own, and they're still working."
The ministry also works with the individual's family during this phase.
Like most nonprofit organizations, Covenant House is largely dependent on volunteer help. A number of community volunteers help with the ministry, including going into prisons and guiding offenders toward the home upon their release.
So far, the ministry in Brooksville has helped 68 men.
Joe Dempsey, 33, has lived there for 60 days. With a career in banking interrupted by his alcoholism, Dempsey, whose brother-in-law had been helped by the program, came for assistance with his addiction. He said the ministry has done a lot for him.
"I would say most of the guys I've observed coming in here were at the bottom, including myself," Dempsey said. "So it really builds you back up, builds you up in the word of God, builds you up in resolving your addiction, in relapse prevention and in preparation for going out to look for a job and then assistance in finding that job and finding housing. Everything you need to get up on your feet and out on your own — that is the goal of the ministry."
While it is not required that a resident be a Christian, Dempsey said the best thing for him about the ministry is that it brought him to Jesus Christ.
"I was agnostic," he said. "I really started believing in God through (other recovery programs). The ministry here brought the actual word of God into it, and I surrendered my will. That's what made everything click."
Hinson said that while relapse is a part of recovery for some men, an individual does not have to relapse. The success rate for the ministry is higher than for secular programs, he said.
"When we look at our success rate, we're looking at an individual being equipped with the tools that are necessary to allow them to walk out of a lifestyle of addiction and dysfunction to return to their families clean and sober, to get on the right track and to understand the power of Christ in their life to overcome whatever it is that's actually besetting them," Hinson said.
Dempsey said relapsing is not an option for him. He's looking forward to being back with his wife and 5-year-old twins.
"Once I graduate in about 30 days, obviously the No. 1 hope is to remain sober. I have no intention of going back to the life I was leading before," he said. "No. 2 is to go back to my family. Three is to stay connected with the ministry and do some work with them."
Hinson said the ministry is his passion, and he is heartbroken when he reads in the newspaper about someone dying from an overdose because there was no place for the person to go for help.
He would like to have more volunteers, willing to give an hour a week to facilitate a training session and build a relationship with a resident, and more funds so that the ministry can help more people.
"We've seen individuals return to their families, fathers taking on their fatherly responsibility, mothers getting their children back and raising them," he said. "This is the greatest story that the Gospel gives us — that if we can restore the family unit, we can fight what's going on in society."