Faith-based sober living home set to open
By MEGAN PACER
Friday, May 19, 2017
KENAI, Alaska — After months of work leading right up to its open house this weekend, faith-based sober living home Freedom House in Soldotna is largely complete.
The transitional home for women will be open to residents starting May 15, said Jennifer Waller, the project's leader and a former addict who began work to turn her personal dream into reality last summer. She interviewed her first applicant to the house and accompanying program, she said during an open house for the building early May.
"It's just overwhelming," Waller said of the project to rehab and open the home."I had people telling me, 'You have all these ideas, but you don't have any money.'’
Waller described the conversation with an inspector from the city when she was first looking at the building as a possibility, in which she said the odds of pulling the project off were described as slim to none. The building was inspected again when it got its permit of occupancy the day before the open house.
"He shook my hand and said, 'You did the impossible,'" Waller said.
The house in Soldotna has eight beds for women working to recover from addiction. They can be referred to Freedom House via a treatment program like Serenity House, or can simply walk in and ask for an application, Waller said. Tenants will sign up for a nine-month program three months at a time, during which they will live in the house and follow certain rules, like attending church, adhering to a curfew and getting a job to be able to pay a $450 housing fee. If employment can't be found, Waller said women enrolled in the program must participate in community service.
The ninth bed in the house is reserved for Waller's resident manager, Kristina Fitzgerald, who moved in in May. Fitzgerald will live at Freedom House full time but will also continue at her full-time job. Living at the house will allow her to keep an eye on things at night and to offer support to the tenants.
Fitzgerald said Waller reached out to her about the position, and that she wanted to accept because she has a personal connection to what the women of Freedom House will be going through.
"Two years ago I was in Wildwood," she said. "I'm a convicted felon. And while I was in prison is when, you know my darkest hour is when I came to Christ. I have done drugs on and off throughout my whole life. . I'm just a firm believer that without Christ, without having that void in your life filled, that it's just a revolving door, and that's what we're trying to solve."
Waller said Freedom House will accept two women at a time into the program. She is taking about a week of downtime before she continues on with aspects of the house that still need to be finished to be in compliance with city code, such as work on the roof, foundation and a backyard parking lot.
Waller said work will also continue on rehabbing upstairs office spaces in the building, which she hopes to rent out to businesses to help pay off the building and offset the cost of operating Freedom House.
To get Freedom House up and running from the time renovations began in December 2016, Waller estimated based off volunteer sign-up sheets that it took more than 500 volunteers and 5,000 hours of work. She said it cost $353,280 to get the building where it is today. For every dollar donated to the project, Waller said 20 percent goes to the house's mortgage, 20 percent goes to operation funds and 60 percent was put into fixing up the building.
As a place of transition for women in recovery to get back on their feet, Waller said Freedom House is an effort to meet a great need in the community when it comes to housing for those getting out of treatment or prison.
John Walker, incoming commander of the VFW post in Soldotna just down the street from Freedom House, said during the open house that the VFW would like to be able to refer female veterans to the sober home in the case that its members are serving someone who would benefit from it.
"We are neighbors," he said.