Barring a $15 million dollar miracle, Santa Barbara’s largest residential rehabilitation center for men with substance-abuse problems will disappear from the county March 31, along with 41 full-time jobs and a popular Milpas Street thrift store that helped sustain the center for 18 years. Because the Salvation Army’s 86-bed Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) is one of only four residential rehabilitation centers in the South County, and free of charge, its imminent closure was triggering serious angst in Santa Barbara’s recovery community last week. Penny Jenkins, president of the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (CADA) described the loss as devastating.
“It’s a very unfortunate thing that this would have to happen,” said Dawn Marks, marketing consultant for the Salvation Army’s Western region ARC Command. But, she said, as the facility operated at a deficit for years, requiring infusions of cash from profitable ARC operations, it became unsustainable. Donations are declining everywhere, and other ARC programs can’t offset Carpinteria’s deficits any longer, she added.
Major Michael Dossey, general secretary of the Salvation Army’s Western regional ARC Command, broke the news to the clients and staff last Wednesday. Adam Poe, a program supervisor who graduated from the program in 2005, said the 64 men in various stages of their six-month recovery programs were initially anxious about their futures. Yet when they were assured of a slot in another ARC facility, much of that worry was allayed, he said.
But the concerns of Santa Barbara’s recovery community won’t be dispatched so easily. Mike Foley, executive director of the South County’s main homeless shelter, Casa Esperanza, said the closing will result in more men with alcohol and drug problems on the street.
“It’s not going to have an effect on detox beds, it’s going to have an effect on what happens to addicts after [they] detox,” Foley said. Some will be forced to go straight into sober living homes like New House II and III and the Light House. These privately run nonprofit homes provide sober living environments for recovering addicts in outpatient treatment and to graduates of residential programs like ARC and The Rescue Mission. But they don’t offer rehabilitation and can have little structure.
John Gabbert, senior program manager at The Rescue Mission, which has 61 long-term residential rehab beds for men and 24 for women, predicted greater pressure on the sober living homes.
“Anytime you lose residential slots it’s going to be a problem because some people need it. Long-term residential treatment isn’t just about the addiction, it’s about life skills,” Gabbert said.
Veteran Project Recovery counselor Isabel Blagborne said ARC was the perfect program for people for whom nothing seemed to work, who bounced in and out of sober living homes until they finally got to ARC.
By Salvation Army policy, the ARC programs must sustain themselves through their thrift-store businesses. The Carpinteria facility was funded through sales at its three thrift stores-the Milpas Street store and two in Ventura County. (A fourth Oxnard store closed last summer due to a lease change.) Though the Milpas store is profitable, the Carpinteria facility lost around $10 million over 19 years, said its new administrator Captain John Greholver. Now, in a cruel twist, its two buildings on Cindy Lane need two million dollars worth of repairs-including new plumbing and heating in the men’s quarters and entirely new electrical wiring in the warehouse where donations are delivered, sorted, and sent off to stores.
Ironically enough, Greholver, who was transferred to the facility specifically to turn its finances around, has managed to make the place break even in the last three months. It is apparently too little too late, however. Western Territory ARC Command Major Michael Zielinski said only $15 million could pay off debts to other programs and fund building repairs.
Other Salvation Army services, like meals and sober and mental health housing at the Chapala Street Hospitality House, are unaffected by the closing.
The Carpinteria-based ARC has graduated roughly 125 men a year from its program with a 25-percent success rate-favorable compared to other rehab programs.
Poe, who will be unemployed next month unless another ARC facility has an opening for him, was coming out of a 15-year addiction to meth and alcohol when he was arrested for battery. After two months in Santa Barbara County Jail, he was given the option of entering long-term recovery at ARC and took it. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.