SIDNEY — “Shelby County is leading the state and nation with this one-of-a-kind facility,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart Wednesday afternoon just prior to the groundbreaking ceremony for the STAR (Sheriff’s Treatment And Recovery) House.
“Every person involved can say ‘I think I made a difference with the way people are treated,” he said.
The STAR House is a transitional housing facility, which will be located at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. It will provide a transitional treatment facility for inmates who have addictions and have completed their sentence at the Shelby County Jail.
“Last year there were 64,000 opioid deaths in the United States,” said Lenhart. “There were 5,300 in Ohio and 17 in Shelby County. As a Vietnam veteran, I know there were 57,000 Americans killed during the entire war.”
He said the opioid deaths and addictions is only part of the story.
“You have children who are being taken out of their homes and put into foster care,” he said. The children of addicts, he said, are then cared for by grandparents, aunts, uncles or people in foster care.
“Our industrial base is starved for people to work for them,” said Lenhart.
Lenhart traces part of the large number of inmates in local jails back to a “Governor named John.”
“There used to be 74,000 inmates in the state penitentiaries. The governor decided to take the number down to 54,000 inmates. They changed a felony 4 to a felony 5, which then went into the county jail.”
“I wrote a paper once where the numbers of women in jail were 1 in 57. Now it’s one in four or five inmates are women.”
He said the jail currently houses 40 women, three of whom are pregnant.
Lenhart said two weeks ago he went to Meigs County and met with sheriff’s from counties in that area.
“They are facing the same problems we are,” said Lenhart. “I asked them what the drug of choice is and where the addicts are getting it. They said it was coming from Dayton.”
Lenhart said he is disappointed that the state government’s money has grown by 54 percent while the local government’s money keeps shrinking.
“The state and federal government are still talking about things that we did four years ago,” said Lenhart. “I think there will be two to three more years of them talking and then they’ll look at us and take credit for what we’ve done alone.”
The STAR House is being built with funds provided by the United Way, Sidney Municipal Court, Shelby County Common Pleas Court, Tri-County Board of Mental Health Services, Shelby County Commissioners, Shelby County Counseling Center, Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services and the Sheriff’s Office.
“There is no tax levy to support this project,” said Lenhart.
Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann discussed National Stepping Up Day, which was Wednesday.
Stepping Up is to bring awareness that people with mental illness shouldn’t be sent to jail, said Ehemann. They should receive treatment for their illness instead of being incarcerated.
“Stepping Up focuses on getting them the appropriate treatment,” said Ehemann. “Each community has been asked to find solutions that work for them locally.”
She said local officials and agencies meet on a regular basis to review the people who are in facilities and try to find a solution to help them. She also read a proclamation declaring May 16 as National Stepping Up Day in Shelby County.
More on the day can be found on social media at #StepUp4MentalHealth.
Mark McDaniel, Tri-County Board of Mental Health Services executive director, said there has been an evolution in the behavioral health field. It all started with Medicaid became the responsibility of the state of Ohio.
“The opioid epidemic has exposed us,” said McDaniel. “There are treatment facilities available, but not locally.”
He said there’s a facility in Dayton, but for a Shelby County resident needing assistance, that’s too far away.
“We are trying to build infrastructure within the Tri-County area to help people,” he said. “We are entering partnerships with like entities with the same goal.
“We have a collective of people to put their focus on the problems,” he said. “The biggest challenge is with substance abuse. We see the same people over and over again.
“STAR House will intervene in this cycle,” said McDaniel. “It will give a break to the person who is coming out of jail. They don’t have to go back where they came from.”
The STAR House, he said, will provide an array of services to help the inmate/recovering addict prepare for life in their community.
“Our hope is that they decide to do something else with their life,” said McDaniel.
McDaniel said one of the biggest problems a recovering addict faces is giving up their friends and sometimes, even their families.
“That’s who leads them back to drugs,” said McDaniel. “STAR House will give them a chance to deal with their future.”
The Ohio Mental Health & Addiction Services is one of the agencies which is supporting STAR House. Doug Bailey, community capital project manager, participated in the groundbreaking ceremony.
“This facility means the people have a chance to have a new life,” said Bailey after the ceremony. “It’s all about the people we serve. We want them to have a sober life.”
The STAR House, said Bailey, will allow the recovering addict the opportunity to not go back to the same environment where they started using drugs.
“This community (Shelby County) is realizing that steps need to be taken to save those folks so they don’t go back to the same old things (drugs),” said Bailey.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.