JACKSON, Mich. — Andy’s Place is the first of its kind: an apartment complex and drug treatment pilot program that you can only get into if you’re recommended from recovery court.
It’s been six years in the making and its opening in February has everything to do with the hard work and advocacy of Mike Hirst.
Hirst's son Andy died in 2010 after struggling with an opiate addiction. Andy developed an addiction to oxycontin and overdosed. He did multiple stints in rehab. After his fourth overdose, he was gone.
“Our son Andy...he was a great kid," Hirst said. "He never did anything wrong. We lived in a rural community. Everyone liked Andy. Teachers liked him. He never got in trouble. So, when he got involved in this...I knew there was something more to this whole thing than a behavior problem.”
Hirst made it his mission to shed light on the dangers of addiction and wanted to come up with a solution to help people kick their addictions to the curb permanently. The solution was to give recovering addicts an affordable place to live with services that would help them stay sober.
Milner and Associates President Mitchell Milner who worked closely with Hirst said they could see people were struggling and wanted to be successful.
“This is the first in the country that combines the resources of drug court with the resources of affordable housing. This is the first time that this group of people have as a resource of supporting recovery” Milner said.
Milner, Hirst, drug court judges and policymakers on both sides of the aisle all came together to make this project a reality. Milner said Mike Hirst’s story made it all possible.
Hirst says he gets too much credit.
These apartments are not meant for everyone. People must be part of the Michigan Drug Court System to apply for residency at Andy’s Place. There is security 24/7 to keep out drug dealers and other people who are on the tenants' do-not-contact list.
“They can live here for as long as they want," Hirst said. "A lot of them are on probation through the drug court system. If they do step out of line, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get thrown out of here. The judge may decide you have to spend weekends in jail, but you can still come back to the apartment. Now, if you have multiple offenses we’re not going to let one person spoil it the 49 other people trying to get better. There has to be rules. There has to be structure. We’re trying to build that."
Edward Forbes, 53, is one of the people trying to make life better for himself. He is the maintenance person and resident manager at Andy’s Place.
“I’ve been a drug addict my whole life. I got involved with methamphetamines the last 20 years of my addiction and I basically got bad I turned into IV needle user,” Forbes said. “I was lucky enough to find the recovery court, they accepted me, I went to rehab and now I’m here.”
Forbes has been clean for four years.
“I have to work on it every day. With an addict mind, we always go to the worst-case scenario. I never dreamed of having a position like this. I didn’t think I was worthy but other people see things in me I didn’t. I fight hard for my addiction. I go to many AA and NA meetings all the time.”
Part of that recovery was getting rid of the people in his old life, he said.
“We have a clean and sober environment. We don’t allow people to come here to visit that don’t have a reason to be here. We don’t want the wrong element here on site,” Forbes said. “We’re all here to help each other.”
But he isn’t only there to take part in his recovery process.
“I am to help people along the way with their recovery, to get them into the recovery community we have here in Jackson. I can see if they’re falling or failing and try to pick them up and make them feel better about themselves,” Forbes said.
Hirst believes building up self-confidence is a huge thing for those in the recovery process.
“That self-confidence, that self-esteem, about what life can be for you. It’s about having your kids grow up in an environment where, ‘Hey this is normal,’" Hirst said. “This is normal to be living in a nice place, a nice environment as opposed to living in a place that’s not so nice.”
Milner and Hirst say they’re just getting started and have plans to expand on the property, believing many other people need this type of housing. They hope to add two more buildings.
“They’ll be for women who are pregnant and addicted. They can be referred through the courts or anyone who has referred is in that condition we would provide housing to,” Milner said. “We’ll have another building, 15 units, for anyone who has an addiction problem. The criteria being they need to be referred by a social service agency which is working with them in their recovery.”
Hirst has made it his life’s work to pick people up at their lowest point and try to build them back up.
“It’s not the end of the road for you. It’s not the end of the line. It’s a tough struggle and it’s an uphill struggle all the way. It’s the biggest mountain you’re ever going to climb in your life. You can’t do that carrying a bunch of baggage. We’re going to take that baggage off your back right now. We’re going to give you this nice, safe clean environment where you can excel,” Hirst said.
Rent at the apartments is based on income. Depending on your situation your rent could be as low as $50 according to Hirst.
“I hope every community in this state has one eventually,” Hirst said.
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