By Sara Terry-Cobo, The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY–Ron Miller started drinking whiskey after his brother committed suicide.
He was a functioning alcoholic for years, but eventually his world spiraled out of control until he tried to take his own life. He’s getting back on his feet now thanks to OKC Metro Alliance Inc.’s transitional housing and education program, Firstep
*Twenty more men like Miller will be able to get the help he receives by 2018, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency. Housing development team leader Darrell Beavers announced the grant on Thursday at OKC Metro Alliance’s 30th anniversary luncheon at St. Luke’s Methodist Church. The Oklahoma agency received the money from Congress as part of the National Housing Trust Fund.
The fund was established in 2008. Beavers said Oklahoma received $3 million total from 2016 appropriations, but federal officials were delayed in delivering the money. The funding supports building housing for people making 30 percent below the area median income.
“This is for the most vulnerable segment of the population,” he said. “OKC Metro Alliance and who they serve is tailor-made for this program, for what they’re doing.”
The organization’s executive director, Connie Schlittler, said it will cost about $1.6 million to build *20 more single-occupancy rooms for men at a housing unit near Lake Stanley Draper, bringing the total to 90. She received assistance from Bank of Oklahoma, private foundations and Oklahoma City’s housing division to cover the remaining $600,000 needed.
On Thursday she also received $25,000 from the Sarkeys Foundation to replace wooden bunk beds, to eliminate a bedbug infestation. OKC Metro Alliance will contribute $10,000 to buy the metal beds.
The Firstep initiative provides affordable housing, case management and life skills education programs for residents. Many them have completed drug or alcohol rehabilitation treatment. The program can last from six months to two years, depending on an individual’s situation. Residents work to help cover the program costs.
Employers can hire Firstep residents in low-skilled jobs, and OKC Metro Alliance provides transportation to and from work, and covers workers’ compensation and other insurance requirements.
Tom Pace, CEO of PaceButler Corp., hires workers from Schlittler’s organization. The workers receive training, and the company gets workers at a competitive price. Some Firstep residents get an opportunity for a full-time job where they’re trained after graduating from the program.
“They (participants) work to pay for their treatment,” Pace said. “They’ve got skin in the game.”
Pace is a Firstep graduate and has been sober for decades. Miller joined the program on Jan. 24. Thursday marked his 120th sober day.
He succumbed to alcoholism after his brother’s death. His family told him he didn’t properly grieve. Covering up the emotions he felt led him to drinking three pints per week.
“I see so many young people fall because they don’t have the resources,” Miller said. “Until you’re sick and tired of being drunk and drugging, (rehab) is not going to work.”
He credits the organization with saving his life after his unsuccessful suicide attempt. He drives a van for Firstep, taking participants to their jobs. Working provides more than just a routine and important tools recovering addicts need to rebuild their lives once they graduate, he said. People get a sense of responsibility and build self-worth.
He implored more employers to consider hiring Firstep residents.
“Don’t judge someone with an addiction problem. Don’t let an opportunity be squandered because of their addiction,” Miller said. “I can share a story of hope.”