SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Texan Greg Lapinski wound up in Springfield when his car broke down in 2010. Then 19 and single, he got a job at Rib Crib and started selling marijuana.
A few years later, he was using and selling meth, working odd jobs and stealing. Though he had a girlfriend and a little boy, Lapinski continued his criminal activity and was often in jail or prison.
It was a jailhouse visit from his 3-year-old son that set Lapinski on a different course.
“He was beating on the glass because he couldn’t touch me or hold me and he didn’t understand,” Lapinski said. “It just broke my heart.
“I went back to my cell and that was it. I told God that I want him in my life and I was done living my life the way I wanted to. I just wanted to do what He wanted me to do.”
Lapinski said from that moment on, God “came rushing into my life.”
The prosecutor ended up dropping the charges against him, Lapinkski said. Before he was released, Lapinski’s parole officer told him to find a recovery program.
“I didn’t want to get into just a program. I wanted to get in a program that gets you closer to God, puts you in touch with God and gets you the tools you need to live your life right,” Lapinkski said. “I heard about the Hope Home so I called and talked to the pastor. They let me in.”
Several months later, Lapinski graduated from the Hope Home for men, a faith-based, sober-living group home located a few miles northeast of Springfield.
Lapinski is now married to the mother of his son, they have a second child and he is the maintenance manager for Affordable Towing in Springfield.
The Hope Home is among several faith-based long-term recovery programs in the Ozarks. For most addicts, the faith-based programs are the only affordable and accessible treatment options available that provide housing and treatment for more than 28-30 days.
The Hope Home, for example, is an intensive nine-month program. If an addict is able to pay, Pastor John Alarid asks for $500 a month to help cover rent, utilities and program costs. But many of the residents are fresh off the streets or out of jail and have no ability to pay.
“I never want to have a place where we turn people away if they don’t have no money,” he told the Springfield News-Leader. “We will still accept them. There is a real cost attached to that. But, you know, we help cover it.”
Alarid, who is an ex-con and recovering heroin addict, said he’s been in and out of 30-day treatment facilities many times. He said that limited period is just not enough time to “rewire the addicted brain.”
He also believes that in order to break free from addiction, folks need an encounter with a higher power — with God — as well as to be surrounded by a supportive and like-minded community. The Hope Home program aims to provide all of those things, he said.
The program is for “those suffering with life-controlling issues, in desperate situations such as post-incarceration, homelessness and addiction, even victims of sex trafficking,” Alarid said.
CityReach Springfield, the Assemblies of God church that oversees the Hope Home that Alarid runs, also has a Hope Home for women, as well as two “less intensive” sober homes: the Esther House for women and the Timothy House for men.
CityReach’s recovery houses do not accept sex offenders. The church generally targets addicts, homeless people, ex-cons — the “unchurched,” as Alarid likes to say.
According to Alarid, the Hope Homes are known for being quite a bit stricter and rigid than most other faith-based programs. Residents are not allowed to work out in the community. Instead, they work for moving and lawn maintenance companies affiliated with the church. They also help out around the facility.
During the first 30 days, residents cannot have a phone. They cannot have a vehicle. They can never have more than $20 in their possession.
“Money is a trigger,” Alarid explained. “Facebook is a trigger. When you Facebook message your old contacts, that can be a trigger. It’s a pretty strict program.”
During that first month, residents can see their families at CityReach Church on Sunday mornings. After the first month, they are allowed visiting passes.
Greene County drug court commissioner Peggy Davis said she sees the good work being done at the faith-based programs.
Davis cannot mandate someone go into a faith-based program but recommends them to offenders needing help.
“You can’t expect someone who is enmeshed in substance abuse to just walk away from it and not have a place to go,” Davis said. “Many are coming out of family cycles of violence, substance abuse crime. Having that place to go, that’s the difference between success and failure.”
Davis didn’t want to single out any programs as being the best, but said the ones she works with “do a really, really good job.”
In her view, the programs are all different and it’s all about finding the one where the addict connects with the program and counselors.
“I don’t know how we would do as good a job if we didn’t have (the faith-based recovery programs),” she added. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had a place that was secular?”
While the faith-based residential programs have earned the endorsement from those like Davis from the drug court, winning over neighbors is a continuing effort.
Not long after the men’s Hope Home opened in 2016, next-door neighbors Stan and Carol Martin grew concerned.
“We have two young granddaughters that are over here a lot and you’d see men walking up and down the road with ankle bracelets and lots of tattoos,” Carol Martin said. “It’s a little intimidating because this is a very quiet, rural area.”
The Martins called the zoning department, asking if anything could be done.
“We just kind of let it go because what are you going to do? You want to get along with your neighbors,” she said. “You don’t want to antagonize them. But we were a little cautious.”
Then last summer Stan Martin hopped on his riding lawn mower and drove across his sprawling 5-acre front lawn to get to the mailbox. As Martin was parked, a vehicle flew over the hill, off the highway and crashed into Martin’s lawn mower.
Stan Martin was thrown 30 feet into a ditch. Severely injured, he slipped in and out of consciousness.
“I opened my eyes and one of the (Hope Home) guys was down in the ditch with me, holding my hand, asking if he could pray for me,” Stan Marin recalled. “He started praying and the next time I opened my eyes, there was five of those guys in the ditch with me, laying hands on me, praying for me. And they stayed with me and kept me awake.”
“It meant everything in the world to me. We are Christians. We believe in that,” he continued. “We believe in laying hands on people, praying for people, praying for God’s divine intervention. Them being there, taking the actions they did, trying to keep me awake and praying for me — it saved me.”
His wife agreed, adding that she called Alarid to praise the Hope Home men.
“He said usually people call to complain and I said no, I’m calling to say thank you for what those folks did for us,” she said. “And ever since then, they have been nothing but good neighbors to us. They mowed our yard for us all summer while Stan was recuperating. They came and helped me move furniture. They’ve been nothing but kind and considerate.”
There are a several faith-based sober living programs operating in and around Springfield, including Higher Ground Recovery Center and Freeway Ministries — to name a couple.
Victory Mission’s Victory Square and Salvation Army’s Harbor House also provide faith-based, sober living programs, but those are located in commercial buildings rather than neighborhood homes.
Victory Mission recently started helping men who have graduated from its long-term recovery program find places to rent where they can be roommates, share costs and continue to support each other in sobriety.
Alon Fisch is director of the New Beginning Sanctuary, a nondenominational sober living program that started in 2013.
Since then, New Beginning Sanctuary has grown from 14 beds to 126 beds in 14 different homes in the Springfield and Joplin areas.
New Beginning Sanctuary homes offer a slightly less rigid program than the Hope Homes. It is a yearlong program.
“We let them choose their path to recovery, as long as they are doing something,” Fisch explained.
Clients are required to attend at least three meetings a week. The meetings could be faith-based, a Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or individual counseling — it’s their choice.
The program also allows for medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.
Participants are also required to attend an outside religious service every week, but it’s up to them to choose a church.
The first four weeks they are in the program, participants must volunteer every Sunday at Schweitzer United Methodist Church.
Fisch said the church requirements are not intended to “cram religion down anyone’s throats.” Rather, it’s about surrounding the person with positive influences and creating a new community for the clients.
“In recovery, you have to change your people, places and things to be successful,” he said. “It’s not so much that we want to make them religious.”
Like the Hope Homes, New Beginning Sanctuary does not allow sex offenders.
Residents are required to get jobs and pay the $99 weekly program fees.
“We wanted it to be less than the Fairvue for a month,” Fisch said, referencing an extended-stay hotel in north Springfield.
Fisch said staff will help the client find a job as New Beginning Sanctuary has partnerships with a few temp agencies in Springfield. All the homes are near bus lines, so lacking a vehicle is not an excuse.
“We give them enough rope to hang themselves,” he said, adding that there are random drug screenings and a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drug and alcohol.
Often to the neighbors’ surprise, these sober-living residences are permitted in neighborhoods zoned as single-family residential because of state laws allowing residential group homes for people with disabilities.
Missouri has classified recovering alcoholics and addicts as a qualifying disability.
There cannot be more than eight unrelated people with disabilities living in the home and no more than two persons acting as house managers. And group homes must be at least a quarter of a mile away from each other.
The homes are also protected by federal laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act.
Springfield City Council put a moratorium on any new halfway houses or group homes for sex offenders back in March 2014. That moratorium was extended at least through September 2015 and appears to have expired.
In 2014 — not long after the kidnapping, rape and murder of 10-year-old Hailey Owens — some in the Brentwood neighborhood were up in arms after learning that Recovery Chapel had a home on Crestview Street.
Chaplain Farris Robertson has always maintained that the homes and program are for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. Some of the men there also happen to be sex offenders, he says.
The city took efforts to shut the home down and Robertson sued. It was around this time that the city put the moratorium on any new facilities.
Eventually, though, Robertson settled his lawsuit out of court. The city purchased the home and Robertson moved the men into another home.
Robertson, who continues to operate Recovery Chapel and has seven homes now throughout the city and county, said he regrets settling that suit with the city.
“I would have like to seen it adjudicated,” he said. “I am doing the right thing for the community. I am doing the right thing for the men. And now that story won’t be told.
“We are serving a disabled group, and disabled people under the Fair Housing Act have the right to live peaceably in a single family home in a friendly, normalized environment,” Robertson said. “And that is the law. You can’t discriminate against disabled people.”
Robertson argued that, by allowing sex offenders into the program, Recovery Chapel is keeping them from being homeless and roaming the streets.
“We are the front line of safety for the community, offering men a safe and supported environment,” he said. “The question for the public is do they want recovering alcoholics and addicts living homeless where they create a public hazard? Or do they want an organization helping them, supporting the recovering person?”
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