PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
From left, Damon Weinberg, Matthew Powers and Stephen Powers at Chelsea’s House in Lynn.
BY BRIDGET TURCOTTE
LYNN — The Chelsea’s House recovery program held an open house for their newest sober house, located at 16 Baker St., on Thursday afternoon.
“Normally, a house opens up in the middle of the night and nobody knows about it, or they try to keep it hush, hush,” said founder Stephen Powers. “We’re right here with an open house. We’re the guys responsible for the property.”
Chelsea’s House opened its first home on Strawberry Avenue in 2010 on the fundamental idea that the people should come before the money, according to Stephen Powers, who runs the program, along with his brother, Matthew Powers, and their partner Damon Weinberg.
With the opening of the Baker Street House, Chelsea’s House now has five sober house locations in Lynn and Chelsea.
The program has specific guidelines, which include clients being neighborly and taking pride in the upkeep of their home.
The team had a hard time paying for the first house, but took a leap and funded it with credit cards and borrowed money.
“Eight years ago, when I first proposed this, people looked at me like I was crazy,” Stephen said. “But, it worked.”
“Sober Houses, for years, only cared about the money,” said Matthew, who said Chelsea’s House takes a different approach and treats people like they are people, not just a source of income.
“If you treat a man like a man, he’ll act like a man,” Matthew said.
“This is one of the last stops addicts have, before moving on to their own homes or apartments,” Weinberg said. “They have a lot of independence here.”
Clients at the home pay $160 per week for a double room, or $175 per week for a single room. The fee includes rent, utilities, heat, cable and internet service.
“We provide an environment where people can live in dignity,” Stephen said. “The room that you’re renting is your own.”
The house is designed and furnished to feel like a home, which is something that is not common for sober house living, he said.
“Sober houses have had sort of a seedy reputation of shuffling people in and shuffling them out,” Weinberg said. “We like to refer to ourselves as transparent. We’re part of breaking the stigma. Almost everybody now has somebody close to them (who is an addict or knows an addict.”
Weinberg said that because he and Matthew are in recovery themselves, they are able to provide an inside point of view about operating the sober houses. It’s also beneficial to have Stephen on the outside, as someone who is not an addict, looking in, he said.
“If you go into a place where everybody is down and the place looks like crap, it’s easy to jump into that ‘I’m not doing anything either’ attitude,” he said. “When you’re in a place that feels like home and everybody is trying to get better, it’s addictive. It’s contagious.
“The reason our houses are so attractive is they’re for addicts, BY addicts,” Weinberg said.
“People from the outside don’t know what it’s like for an addict every day,” Stephen said. “This place offers you the ability to get better.
“My brother was a sick guy,” he said. “At one time, he was living in a place the size of a closet with a curtain for a door.
“How can you grow from an environment where you feel like a prisoner?“
With this belief, the team began their journey to recreate the assumptions that surround sober houses.
“Every house is purchased and renovated,” he said. “We try to make it a home here. Everything’s new. The bedding is new. We provide a TV in the bedroom. Having a place like this was unheard of (a few years ago).
This is a business, but at the end of the day, we have put guys in here who don’t have a dime,” he said.
The Baker Street location will house 12 clients and no more than two people per bedroom. The house has been renovated and features an updated kitchen and furniture. Because each of the properties is purchased and not rented, the Chelsea’s House team is able to provide the security that clients will not be put out of the home, should a landlord decide to sell the property.
Chelsea’s House was the first in the state to be certified by the Massachusetts Association of Sober Housing, according to President Richard Winant.
“We also work closely with Lynn Drug Court and Chelsea Drug Court,” Matthew said. “For Lynn Drug Court, we are one of the only houses they will refer people to. We’ve built a reputation.”
“We’ve broken the stigma, the state is opening up (its) eyes. Things are changing,” Weinberg said.