Healing house doors swing open for tribe

SUQUAMISH — A decade has passed, but Suquamish Tribe Wellness Program Coordinator Chuck Wagner can finally offer those he helps a safe place to call home.

The new Suquamish Transitional House on Augusta Avenue offers an alternative to those who don’t have a haven to go after they have completed in-patient substance abuse treatment through the wellness center. The offerings of the “Healing House” don’t end there and tribal members are certain the site’s spirit will serve as a guide to help local Native Americans get their lives back on track.

“They’ve been talking about this place for 10 years,” Michael Marshall, the lead chemical dependency program counselor said. He, Wagner, the tribe’s wellness community and tribal officials came together for a blessing ceremony June 10.

Besides being a safe place for Native Americans, it will also be a place where Suquamish Tribal members will truly feel at home. Interior walls may be a bland cream color now but they will soon be filled with traces of tribal culture, such as murals and blanket weavings. A totem pole will also be carved and placed in front of the house.

The one-story house has nine bedrooms, a kitchen, laundry facilities, a meeting room, a TV room, a computer and small backyard. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development office of Native American Programs through a $240,000 Indian Community Development Block Grant.

Sixteen people will be able to occupy the new space and will be responsible for themselves and their actions. A house manager will also be on hand to provide support and help with any problems. Housemates must get along and not bring in any drugs or alcohol into the home, in any form or fashion.

“They can’t bring it (in) their body — they are bringing that alcohol spirit into the house,” Wagner said. “This has been cleaned. The house has a spirit.”

Those who break the rules are not allowed to return for 30 days and must reapply to be let back in.

“This place isn’t really about treatment but an extension of treatment,” Marshall added.

Wagner said he doesn’t plan to fill the space right away and will try to keep a room or two vacant at all times, explaining, “I’d rather have a room empty rather than have to turn someone away.”

The completion of the home also creates another resource for the wellness program and tribal community.

“It will really meet a big need because they don’t necessarily have a clean place to go,” Wagner said, noting that by the time some patients go through treatment, they may have already burned bridges with friends and family or they may return to an unhealthy environment. Another reason for building the center is to provide in-house treatment resources were previously not offered on the reservation.

“There are other transitional houses but no one wants to go to Bremerton,” Wagner said. “This is the tribe’s commitment to (providing) the needed services for the people.”

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