The two men laugh and exchange jokes as they fling horseshoes in the direction of a pit on the far side of the yard at a seven-bedroom home in central Carlsbad. Behind horseshoe pit, sunflowers tower over a fence line protecting a small garden.

Phillip Huston, center, helped found Carlsbad Lifehouse Inc. Also pictured are residents Chris Parks and Joe Palomarez.

Joe Palomarez and Chris Sparks are residents of Carlsbad LifeHouse Inc., a faith-based recovery program entering its second year of operations funded by a consortium of local churches and donors. LifeHouse has purchased a second facility it intends to use to assist women with recovery.

“When everything went down with the State of New Mexico (mental health crisis), I thought ‘what can we as a faith community do to make a difference and fill some of the gap?’” reflected Pastor Phillip Huston, with Epworth United Methodist Church. “This is the sort of thing that the church should be doing, and we’re uniquely equipped to change lives.”

Huston is executive director of the program. Board membership includes George Dunagan, Lisa Kearney, Lauren Houghton, Ralph Carreon and David Kump.

“We want people to have a place to increase their chance of being successful,” Huston added. “We’re trying to help people be successful in that transition out of treatment.”

In many cases, LifeHouse is the “next step” of the rehabilitation process, after the conclusion of court mandated programs such as Villa de Esperanza or Crossroads, a currently-defunct treatment center for women with children. Huston is also a member of the Avalon Ranch board, an organization attempting to rekindle the Crossroads effort in Carlsbad.

Many government-funded treatment programs simply don’t last long enough for addicts to complete the recovery process, creating the need for a second phase of the recovery effort.

“If I were on my own, I’d probably be on the streets again,” admitted Palomarez, originally a resident from Silver City. “Having a sense of place is really helpful. I’m going to give it a good try.”

As is the case with many individuals battling addiction, Palomarez fears a return too quickly to his previous surroundings would be too dangerous.

After his second trip through Villa de Esperanza, Sparks spoke with Huston about a sober living environment that would help him stick with his attempt to battle addiction. The faith-based component of the LifeHouse effort is critical, he stressed.

“For me, it is all about the faith in a higher power and God,” he declared. “The unmanageability of our illness is what keeps pulling me back; there is no known cure, but 100% to God will help you realize what a powerful influence drugs and alcohol have. God can break the chains.”

Palomarez said the lifestyle skills treatment, especially financial responsibility classes taught by George Dunagan, are also highly informative.

A lifelong resident of Carlsbad, Sparks stated that he believes the community is starting to realize that there is an epidemic of addiction.

Huston said the LifeHouse program had been in discussion for some time, but everything really came together in the summer of 2016.

“We had an amazing group of volunteers and we had a house in mind,” he reflected. “Everything was donated. The only thing we paid for were the security cameras.”

LifeHouse kicked off on Sept. 1, 2016, with its first three residents.  Residents are allowed to remain with the program for as long as needed, but a stay of at least six months is recommended. The tenants have generally been able to find employment, Huston said, but the “Real ID” program has caused some difficulty for some residents. LifeHouse receives private funding for capital expenses, though some residents do contribute funds.

LifeHouse has a zero tolerance policy toward drugs and alcohol and implements a 9 p.m. curfew. They have a number of partnerships – such as donated chiropractor services, counseling and gym membership – designed to focus on the wellness of participants. Many participants come recommended from prison or probation programs from around the state.

Huston and his board researched similar programs before opening. Residents who have yet to find employment are required to attend roughly six meetings a week, but that number goes down to three once they have a job. The list of classes includes life skills programs, AA and Bible study classes. Visitors are not required to be of any specific faith, but Huston believes the faith element to be vital.

“I would say that you can’t address someone’s addiction and overall well being without dealing with their spiritual health as well,” shared Huston. “The faith element is really important to a lot of people being successful in recovery.”

“Were it not for the faith community, we would not have been able to get this up and going,” he added.

A program is in development to build a similar “post-recovery” center for women in south Carlsbad that would likely collaborate with the Avalon Ranch rehabilitation program. Huston would also like to see other programs such as a ranch-type setting developed to aid with recovery.

“We had to start somewhere,” Huston mused. “We had an infinite number of holes in mental health services around here and no way to meet all the needs. Our goal is to partner with whomever we can.”

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