Hale Kupaa house gives hope to people in recovery
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Magical, funny, spiritual, healthy, real. These are not the words you would expect to hear in describing recovering drug addicts and former inmates who describe themselves as “monsters” when in the clutches of their drug abuse. But these are the words that Kahu Billy Mitchell uses to describe the residents at the the Mana Christian Ohana’s Hale Kupaa clean and sober house in Waimea.
The house, a former private school, was purchased about six years ago as a donation by a member of the Mana Christian Ohana. The church took on the addiction recovery program as a ministry, and set up the house to help men who were coming out of prison or trying to find their place in the community, all struggling with the disease of addiction.
There is a stigma in our community about drugs, addiction, and recovery, said Mitchell, even though almost every person who lives in Waimea, and surrounding communities, has been touched by drugs in one way or another — if not through their own addiction, then through the struggles of friends and family members — parents, children, spouses, and siblings.
For many, the downward spiral of drug addiction results in violence, crime, conviction, and incarceration. In Hawaii, more than half of all crimes are drug related. A 2006 survey showed 66 percent of Hawaii law enforcement investigations were connected to drugs, according to Hawaii’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a partnership of law-enforcement agencies.
Highly addictive drugs like methamphetamine, or “ice,” and cocaine are readily available and abused on our island. According to the Friends of Narcanon website’s Hawaii fact sheet, our state has the highest per capita population of ice users in the country.
While in prison, few addicts receive treatment for their drug problems, so when they get out of prison, they are again faced with the same challenges that got them behind bars in the first place.
Hale Kupaa provides a safe environment, like a halfway house, for men in recovery to learn how to function as clean and sober members of society, said Mitchell. Residents must stay utterly free of drugs and alcohol, and are required to be employed. They must follow strict rules for attendance at AA or NA meetings, and submit to regular drug testing. Residents mostly come from within the North Hawaii community, but some find their way to Hale Kupaa from other islands.
“I was looking for a new way to live,” said Kaulike Rice, a resident at the house. “The other way of life I had before wasn’t working.”
There is no rule that residents have to move out after a certain amount of time, said Haia Auweloa, a former resident and current member of the council that oversees the Hale Kupaa program and mentors residents.
“They stay here until they are ready to make it on their own,” he said.
Over the past six years since the house was established, more than a dozen people have found a new life in recovery through the program.
“We’ve had about 80 percent success,” said Verna Chartrand, a counselor and member of the council. “That’s really high compared to other programs. The successful men are now clean, sober, and engaged in real life — employed, or going to school.”
The importance of a supportive faith community to the residents’ recovery was echoed by current and former residents of the house.
“In the 12-step recovery program, all steps point to a power greater than ourselves,” said Ranger Cruz, former resident of the house, and now a member of the Hale Kupaa council. “The church figures in our recovery because we have a yearning to understand this Higher Power. I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own. At church, we meet and stay in touch with people who celebrate our recovery with us.”
“We’re not the answer; we are just a part of the system. We partner with other entities,” said Mitchell.
This is clearly not the war on drugs that we hear about in the news, nor the wrenching stories of interventions promoted on reality TV.
“There are no battle cries and also no shame,” said Mitchell.
It starts with a partnership with the courts, he said. Members of the group that Judge Ronald Ibarra and Judge Greg K. Nakamura are compassionate individuals who have helped addicts get the treatment they need. There are Therapeutic Living Programs all over the island for addicts who are on probation. There is another clean and sober house run by Mama’s House in Waimea, and St. James Episcopal Church in Waimea continues a decades-long tradition of hosting AA and NA meetings.
“The recovery community is strong here. There is a meeting every day in North Hawaii, at least one each day. There are thousands of people in recovery in this town,” said Cruz.
Mitchell feels that the relationship between the church and the residents is not at all a one-sided relationship, where the congregation gives and the men in recovery receive.
“It’s been a blessing to us to fulfill this ministry,” he said. “When someone has hit rock bottom, there’s no faking it. It’s real.”
In looking to the future, Mitchell hopes the combined help today is planting seeds of change for future generations.
“I pray that this program ends because we have no more need for it,” said Mitchell, “but right now, the issue is very real; every family has been touched.”
“We want the house to be available to people who are serious about recovery,” he added.
With the high success rate, community support, and men and women in recovery who are dedicated to change, Cruz believes there is hope.
“We believe a person can have a full, productive life through recovery,” said Cruz.
For more information about the ministries of the Mana Christian Ohana, visit their website at manachristianohana.com. For a list of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in North Hawaii, visit www.westhawaiiaa.org, and for Narcotics Anonymous meetings visit www.na-hawaii.org/Schedules/big_island/big_island.htm.