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Tribal wellness program is finally in ‘transitional’ period

SUQUAMISH — In an effort to assist its members on their paths to recovery, the Suquamish Tribe recently started the long-awaited construction of its Wellness Program Transitional House in downtown Suquamish.

The building, currently being constructed on Augusta Way, will be a nine-bedroom home that will accommodate eight patients and one live-in manager. It is expected to be completed and opened by February 2004.

Wellness Program Administrator Chuck Wagner said the house will help the program meet one of its goals — to provide an environment for a more stable transition from lifestyles of drug and alcohol abuse to clean and sober living.

Currently, similar services aren’t offered within the tribe. Patients tend to “couch surf” within the community after completing the program and often relapse into their old habits, Wagner said. Wagner and his staff have tried to use other transitional housing within the county, but they have found the sites to be too far away for their patients and therefore not effective.

The idea for the addition started about three years ago with a $240,000 Indian Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing.

The Urban Development Office of Native American Programs financed the construction of the house and the tribe funded design services and administrative costs. The economic branch of the tribe, Port Madison Enterprises, donated the land on Augusta Way.

About 100-150 people go through the program each year, but not all of them will need to stay in the house, said Linda Holt, director of the tribe’s human services department and vice-chairman for the Suquamish Tribal Council.

While tenants must be enrolled in the program, their lengths of stay will be determined on a case-by-case basis, Wagner explained, noting they could range from a detox program to 21-day and 45-day programs.

Based on observing people who don’t have a place to get back on their feet, the program staff believes the house will make a difference, Holt said.

“That’s one of the things we’ve seen historically, there is no place else for people to go after treatment,” Holt explained, noting patients usually cannot go back to their families because of past conflicts. “They end up with the last crowd they left. We’re hoping we can give them a place to get their lives back together, get a job and a place for transition to get their lives back where they need to be.”

The program works on a holistic level, treating all aspects of the body, Wagner said.

“We have to meet all the clients’ needs — spiritually, mentally, physically,” Wagner said. “We do both mental health and chemical dependency.”

He said he also sees the advantage of bringing services such as transitional housing closer to the community.

“We’re bringing more and more of these services (that are) off the reservation to the reservation so we don’t have to send our people away,” Wagner said.

The Suquamish Tribe is currently seeking donations of new furniture for the bedrooms, meeting room, kitchen and living room. Donations of furniture or cash can be made by calling Brenda Soy at (360) 394-8459.

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