Drug treatment center gets $1.4M to help bridge gap to sober housing

Aurora Sentinel by Max Levy

August 11, 2023

A diversion program run by Aurora-based Hazelbrook Community Center helping criminal defendants achieve sobriety and enter sober living has been tabbed to receive $1.38 million in Denver sales tax dollars, supporting operations through next August.

Hazelbrook’s Transitional Safety Zone is designed to close the gap between the ongoing support offered by sober living homes and detox facilities that manage the earliest stages of drug and alcohol withdrawal.

Being able to provide a drug-free urine sample is typically a requirement for entering sober living. But Hazelbrook’s director of operations, Jess Shvedov, said that, for people discharged from detox before they can pass a drug test, having to wait to enter a sober living program can jeopardize their recovery.

“A lot of times, they go right back to where they started,” she said. “Expecting someone to essentially go back to the streets or wherever they are, trying to stay clean until a bed is open, can be extremely challenging. We don’t see a lot of success with that.”

The grant was part of a pool of $13 million awarded through the Caring for Denver Foundation at the end of July for services meant to keep people with mental health and substance abuse problems from coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Caring for Denver administers the sales tax funding earmarked by a 2018 ballot initiative.

The Transitional Safety Zone was created to guide people through the process of physically withdrawing from drugs and alcohol and then entering a sober living home, either one of multiple homes in the Aurora area managed by Hazelbrook or an independent facility.

Local criminal defendants may be sentenced to participate in the Transitional Safety Zone if their crimes involved drug or alcohol abuse — Shvedov said arson and sexual offenses are the only crimes that would exclude someone from participation in the program.

For the first week of the program, participants’ contact with the outside world is limited. Their phones are taken away, and they are discouraged from leaving the facility, while the program connects them with counseling, medication and living essentials. Program staffers help advocate for in-person court dates to be postponed until after the week-long “blackout.” 

After the first week, program participants are given more freedom for the remaining two weeks, as they are encouraged to find jobs, work with staffers on getting any ID documents they may need and participate in therapy.

Following a four-month pilot program from March to July 2022, Hazelbrook operated its Transitional Safety Zone from August 2022 until August 2023 with the help of an earlier grant from Caring for Denver. The recent $1.38 million grant will help fund operations through next August.

During the first grant period, the program worked with 500 people, about 60% of whom graduated and entered a sober living program, Shvedov said. Most of those people came from Denver, though some Aurora residents have been able to benefit from the program as well.

She said the program wants to reach more people over the next year, and that Hazelbrook offers scholarships to those who can’t afford to participate on their own.

“We have a lot of people who want to be there, even though they are on probation or parole,” Shvedov said.