Leanna DelaCruz started cooking eight months ago when she moved into Frasieur’s Home, a sober residence for women in Hanford.
She shows off the kitchen with its gas stove where she makes chile verde. One of her favorite times of the day is when she sits for meals with her four children at the dining room table.
The children are able to live with DelaCruz, a recovering methamphetamine abuser, while she continues with her recovery and works to save money for a place of her own. “It’s a blessing,” DelaCruz, 35, says. “This is what we needed.”
Frasieur’s Home is a bridge between inpatient treatment for substance abuse and self-sufficiency for women who do not have a safe or healthy place to return to after treatment, says Crystal Hernandez, executive director of Champions Recovery, a nonprofit treatment agency in Kings County. Champions opened Frasieur’s Home in February.
Before moving into Frasieur’s Home, DelaCruz and her children had squeezed into a bedroom at a relative’s house. DelaCruz slept on the floor between her children’s beds. “There was a lot of us in a very tiny spot. Before I knew it, I was being swallowed up by kids.”
The cramped living arrangement was the best that DelaCruz could do at the time. She had been living alone at Hannah’s House, a Champions Recovery residential treatment program for women, but she left the program after 10 months to take care of her children. DelaCruz’s oldest child is 15 and her youngest is 8 – too old for the age limit at Hannah’s House where only children ages 5 and younger can stay with their mothers.
It’s common for women to leave substance abuse treatment – or forego treatment altogether – because they need to care for their children, Hernandez says.
Champions is reassessing age limits at Hannah’s House, Hernandez says, but age limits for children have been common at residential substance abuse treatment programs where the focus is on the women. The residential treatment programs are licensed by the state, but there’s no rule preventing older children. Hernandez is not sure why they have been excluded, but maybe older children could have issues that could distract mothers from their focus on recovery, she says.
Sober residences, such as Frasieur’s Home, tend to allow older children, but that could be because they are designed to help women return to life in their communities rather than providing treatment. The homes can be essential to a woman’s recovery from substance abuse, but there are not enough of the residential programs in the central San Joaquin Valley. And there are even fewer sober residences for men with children, although the trend is more fathers getting custody, Hernandez says.
Champions is looking at possibly adding a home where fathers could reside with their children. Champions has Rylie & Brennan for men, but children cannot stay there.
Sober residences are not just places where women with addictions eat and sleep. Champions requires the women at Frasieur’s Home and at its other sober residence for women, Amanda’s Home, to attend counseling sessions and they must hold jobs. “They’re not just renting a room,” Hernandez says. “The goal of these places is to sustain their wellness and recovery.”
Drug use gets the upper hand
DelaCruz feared that once she left treatment at Hannah’s House she would fall back into old habits that would lead to reusing meth. She knew she needed help to maintain her recovery. She tried to get into a sober residence that would accept her children, but there were waiting lists.
Frasieur’s Home opened just in time, she says. She’s held accountable there. And she has access to counselors who are next door at Hannah’s House. “When I need the help, I go to them.”
DelaCruz began drinking and smoking meth at age 16. For years, she thought she had control over her drug use. She would not smoke at work or in front of her children and family members. But about four years ago, the drug began to get the upper hand.
“I spent 90 percent of my day out there doing what I needed to do to be sure I had what I needed,” she says. “Whatever I had in my pipe that’s what I had, but I always had to have some in my pocket. And it had to be at least $20 to $30 worth. If I had just one bag in my pocket, that was not enough.”
There are other memories from that time that cause her to cover her face and wipe away tears. She became an absent parent, leaving her children in the care of a relative for longer periods of time. “I was staying with my dealer and his girlfriend, and we were kind of making a home there.”
DelaCruz had reached a low point. She got pulled over by a police officer four years ago. She had a methamphetamine pipe on her, and she was on probation for a previous drug offense. She spent two months in jail and then entered residential treatment. She had tried to quit smoking meth several times on her own, including not using each time she had a baby. But she would use again, and “I would end up using more,” she says.
DelaCruz is not alone in needing help. Methamphetamine users quickly become psychologically and physically addicted. Methamphetamine is relatively cheap, readily available and abuse is endemic in the Valley. The drug is the most common substance that adults 20 years or older are being treated for in Fresno County, according to the county’s Department of Behavioral Health Substance Abuse Disorder Services.
Little pleasures add up
It’s easy for the progress women make in residential treatment for substance abuse to erode when they leave. “They work really hard on getting clean and sober and starting a new life and you throw them back in low-income housing where it’s just infested with drugs and alcohol,” says Lori Keen, the assistant program manager at Hannah’s House.
Sober residences, such as Frasieur’s Home, provide the stability the women need to stay sober and take care of their children, Keen says.
Women share the kitchen and living room at the house, but there is a bedroom for each woman. Adventist Health in collaboration with World Vision, a humanitarian organization, furnished the 1916-built home with a large dining table, beds, a sofa and other items. The furniture looks brand-new. For a lot of the women, Frasieur’s Home is the nicest home they have ever lived in, Keen says.
DelaCruz and her children are in the largest bedroom, which is big enough for five trundle beds. They have their own bathroom and two large closets. There’s a patio accessible from a sliding-glass door. DelaCruz, who has a job making pretzels and recently added a second job as a sales associate in a mall, pays $425 a month rent.
“It’s nice just to have a home. I know we share it, but it’s still like being on my own and having our own,” DelaCruz says. Her oldest son has become her partner in the kitchen, and her oldest daughter plays flute on the front porch. “It’s a lot of little things” to gain pleasure from, DelaCruz says.
Many times, women in addiction have left their children with family members or other people, and the separation has strained the mother-child bond, Keen says. The healing process begins with the women and their children doing everyday things together around the home. DelaCruz and her children like to gather on the living room sofa to watch movies. “They can be a family here,” Keen says.
DelaCruz says it’s important that she can turn to counselors for parenting advice at Hannah’s House. “I’m trying to find myself and trying to help my kids find themselves.”
Hernandez says substance abuse treatment is shifting to include more sober residences and for children of all ages to be able to stay with their mothers in treatment programs. “Parents need this level of care and they are also the primary caregivers for these children, so where are they supposed to put them?” she says.