Two pans of brownies sit on the counter while a ham bakes in the oven. Toasty rolls are piled in a basket and green beans are cooking. Andrea Robinson drains potatoes into a large pot ready to mash them.
The occasion for the large meal is Haven House’s weekly group dinner on Tuesday, and this week is Robinson’s turn to cook. She admits to starting dinner prep a little late, but she’s not fazed. It’s just dinner after all, and she’s got something bigger to be proud of.
“Ninety days clean and sober,” Robinson said smiling.
When Robinson finished treatment at Rainforest Recovery at the end of January, she didn’t have anywhere to go. She set up an interview with Haven House and moved in.
“Otherwise, I’d be on the street,” she said.
At Haven House, she has a safe place to go every night. She gets to see two of her kids on Fridays and they can spend the night with her. And for the first time, “I can honestly say I have true friends in my life,” Robinson said.
She is one of nine people who have lived at Haven House since it started welcoming residents March 17, 2015.
Haven House is a faith-based recovery residence located at 3202 Malissa Drive in the Mendenhall Valley. It can house up to nine women at a time. The six who live there now have either just come out of prison, addiction treatment or mental health treatment.
Residents all go through an interview process to get in and must follow a set of rules to stay. No drinking or using drugs. Attend at least two support meetings a week, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Have a sponsor. Be home by 10 p.m. Attend group dinners on Tuesday and Thursday. Participate in house prayers. Do house chores. Attend weekly meetings with Haven House staff about individual action plans that lay out short- and long-term goals.
Besides the rules, the residents deal with the normal challenges of communal living, like not having as much privacy or quiet time as they might want. But those annoyances pale in comparison to something else they’ve had to overcome.
When Haven House opened, it was surrounded by homes with signs outside that read, “Right Idea, Wrong Place.”
“You hear nine convicted felons moving into a family-style neighborhood, that’s a concern for anybody,” said Dustin Stogner.
As a renter, Stogner moved into the house directly across the street from the house that’s now Haven House in April 2014 with his fiancé and 6-month-old son.
“My concern wasn’t necessarily for the individuals moving into the house,” he said. “Our concern was the people associated with those people — ex-boyfriends, drug dealers, drunk family members showing up at all hours of the day trying to see their loved ones.”
Many in the Tall Timber neighborhood had these concerns and others.
With the assistance of a lawyer, the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association has been challenging the opening of Haven House. When the Juneau Planning Commission issued the transitional home a conditional use permit, the neighborhood association appealed the decision to the Juneau Assembly. When the Assembly backed the Planning Commission’s decision, the neighborhood association took its challenge to Juneau Superior Court, which hears administrative agency appeals. Just last month, Judge Louis Menendez heard oral arguments on the matter and has up to six months to issue a final decision.
Renter Stogner doesn’t own property in the neighborhood and isn’t part of the neighborhood association, yet he still initially had concerns.
But in the year since Haven House has been open, Stogner said he hasn’t experienced any issues. He feels comfortable and safe. He said the Haven House residents are friendly, and he doesn’t usually notice them.
“Other than when they have meetings or potluck dinners and there’s an influx of cars of people over there filling up their driveway, I don’t think people even realize they’re back there,” Stogner said. “I don’t pay any more attention to them than I think they pay attention to us. Everyone is just back here to live.”
Being a neighbor of the recovery residence for a year has changed Stogner’s mind on the issue.
“If we moved to another part of town and they proposed a Haven House set up the exact same way and handled by the same people, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I wouldn’t blink an eye at it,” he said.
Not everyone in the neighborhood agrees with Stogner.
For seven years, Shelly Lager has lived on Marilyn Avenue with her husband and three children. Their house is near Haven House.
“We bought a house in that neighborhood because it’s a residential area. My husband and I were very particular about where we wanted to live,” Lager said.
“I have nothing against Haven House or any residents that live there. It’s the increased traffic. Several days a week you can see six to nine cars parked there,” she added.
In the last year, Lager has seen several smokers from Haven House pacing in front of her house and an increased amount of cigarette butts outside. She said there’s been more law enforcement and emergency vehicles in the neighborhood, which makes her feel unsafe.
According to Juneau Police Department spokesman Lt. David Campbell, though, Haven House has not seen a lot of police activity in the past year. There were no reports called in about the house or from the house whatsoever in 2015. So far this year, there have been four. Two of those instances involved police remanding a person back to jail, one was a medical call due to the flu and the last call was a litter complaint from a neighbor.
One of Lager’s biggest worries with Haven House moving into the neighborhood came true. Lager said her property value, which has had held steady the whole time she’s lived there, dropped about $34,000 this year.
According to data from the city assessor’s office, several properties in the Tall Timbers neighborhood have decreased in value, while others have gone up. But overall, total property values have increased by about $833,000 from last year.
City assessor Robin Potter said that some properties in the Tall Timbers neighborhood have decreased in value due to their location in a flood zone, either partially or completely — not due to their proximity to Haven House.
“Whether or not that impacts them when they want to sell is irrelevant for us. That remains to be seen,” Potter said. “Haven House has nothing to do with the affect on the values of these properties.”
If you drive through Tall Timbers neighborhood now, the majority of the “Right Idea, Wrong Place” signs in the neighborhood have been taken down. But Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association lawyer Dan Bruce said, “The neighborhood continues to oppose the issuance of the conditional use permit.”
“The last information I heard from my client was they still objected to Haven House in that neighborhood,” Bruce said.
Haven House director Kara Nelson, who’s also in long-term recovery, said she understands the neighborhood’s fears.
“People that are against us have legitimate fears based on their own experiences with crime,” Nelson said.
But no matter what, she said residents will continue to follow the path of recovery.
“Active addiction is totally different than long-term recovery and even when we screw up, we’re going to be transparent about it and we’ll always keep striving and rising and rising and rising,” Nelson said.
Haven House isn’t just a house, Nelson said. It’s a way of life. It’s a community and a support system that continues even when you move out.
Twenty-seven-year-old Samantha Garton can attest to that. She was Haven House’s second-ever resident when she moved in April 2015. Prior to that, Garton had been in and out of incarceration for five years for using meth. When she moved into Haven House, she had just completed a two-year prison sentence.
“I was pretty lost when I first came into the house. I was a wreck. I broke a lot of rules, and I wasn’t very nice,” she said.
At Haven House, Garton was surrounded by a peer-support network — people who knew exactly what she was going through and wanted her to succeed.
“When I was in Ketchikan and tried to be sober, it lasted like 20 days. You have your family and you have all those people, but you need people that have been where you are and have walked through those struggles,” Garton said.
When she first moved in about a year ago, she set goals for herself.
“I said I wanted to be kitchen manager at the (Silverbow) bakery. Two weeks later, I was kitchen manager. I wanted to see my son. I’ve gone twice. I call him every day,” she said.
Garton moved out of Haven House three months ago. She now lives at a friend’s house, but she’ll soon move into her own apartment downtown. And her 9-year-old son will stay there with her for two weeks this summer.
“That’s huge,” she said. Garton is working toward having him for an entire summer, but she wants to be ready and to live in a bigger space so he can have his own room.
Garton has been sober for 13 months and she still works at Silverbow. She credits Haven House and the friendships she’s made there for these successes and others.
Garton continues to attend Tuesday night dinners at Haven House, even though she no longer lives there. She makes the welcome baskets for new residents. When her sister died at the end of February, she still turned to the women at Haven House.
“Support has been a big theme in my recovery. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the support,” Garton said. “Cause laughter is key; you need true laughter and you get that when you come here.”