Robin Fornoff
The Del Norte Triplicate

Some of the same people who wanted Del Norte County taxpayers — you and me — to spend about $40,000 on a senseless recall election are now questioning a wise investment for the same money.

Linda Sutter, apparently spokesperson for the Crescent City-Del Norte Taxpayer Association, recently announced the recall effort was suspended against county Supervisor Lori Cowan. We shall see. Monday is the deadline for filing petitions collected by Sutter and her partner in this blatant political vendetta, Donna Westfall.

Sutter’s announcement came at a July 25 Del Norte County Board of Supervisor’s meeting. It followed Del Norte County Republican Chairwoman Karen Sanders declaring the GOP Central Committee didn’t support a recall — calling it without merit and a “frivolous election.”

The Republicans were being very kind. The recall attempt was nothing more than trying to bully Cowan out of office for flexing her independence.

Cowan has had the courage to side against Supervisors Roger Gitlin and Bob Berkowitz on some of their pet issues. Sutter and Westfall are in the political payback camp of Gitlin and Berkowitz.

Now some of them — Sutter and Gitlin — have set their sights on a new target — Oxford House recovery homes. (Berkowitz hasn’t yet stated his position on the Oxford Houses.)

For those of you who haven’t followed Triplicate Staff Writer Tony Reed’s recent and excellent series, Oxford Houses provide a roof, warm bed and emotional support to men and women committed to kicking their alcohol or drug addiction. There are two Oxford Houses in Crescent City. One for men — Oxford House Beachside — and one for women — Oxford House Sequoia.

Oxford House is a national nonprofit, self-run organization that uses rental properties to provide support for recovering individuals. This private organization has a huge success rate far exceeding most government-run recovery programs. It also is universally praised by experts in the recovery field, both nationally and locally.

But not by Gitlin, who has “questions.”

Gitlin also suggested in a recent public meeting that a house of 10 or 11 women would become a “magnet for men.” I’m not sure even Gitlin gets how demeaning and sexist that kind of statement is but at the very least it is hurtful and unfair. It is unfounded and fuels needless fear, as the facts show.

Never mind the Oxford house for men has been operating in Crescent City for almost two years without becoming a magnet for women — or crime for that matter. Now that we have 10 or 11 women living in a recovery house, suddenly it’s a political issue. Something has to be wrong about this.

Sheriff Erik Apperson told reporter Reed his department hasn’t had a single issue at Oxford House Sequoia.

Here’s what Del Norte Superior Court Judge William Follett had to say about the Oxford House programs:

“The people are there because they want to be clean and they don’t tolerate anyone using (drugs or alcohol) in the house.”

Follett said he has seen people go through the program he never thought would be able to get clean and sober.

“They’ve done so and gone on to become law-abiding citizens and good parents,” Follett said. “It takes people just deciding to do it and it’s much harder than people realize. When people make that commitment at Oxford House, the majority have managed to stay clean.”

Here’s what the U.S. Surgeon General has to say about Oxford’s program in a 2016 study:

“A randomized controlled trial found that people with severe substance use disorders who were randomly assigned to live in an Oxford House after substance use disorder treatment were two times more likely to be abstinent and had higher monthly incomes and lower incarceration rates at follow up two years later than similar individuals assigned to receive standard continuing care.”

Those are facts. The program works.

The county has before it a request from DHHS Director Heather Snow to enter into a $40,000 contract with Oxford House Inc. for the Sequoia house. The money to pay for that contract comes from state tax dollars designated for just such use.

So, $40,000 a year helps a dozen women not only stay clean and sober but eventually become productive, taxpaying citizens. In a state where the cost of keeping someone in prison now averages between $60,000 to $70,000 per inmate per year, that’s a bargain in my book. That figure doesn’t consider the financial and emotional damage addicts wreak on family, friends, law enforcement and our courts.

County supervisors have been batting this contract around without making a decision for weeks. It’s time to drop the politics of innuendo and fear and approve it. If it were up to me we wouldn’t have just two Oxford Houses. We would have at least a dozen more.

Robin Fornoff is editor of the Del Norte Triplicate. Reach him at rfornoff@triplicate.com

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