LEWISTON — Jesse Harvey did not stay sober and commit to recovery until the fifth time he had been involuntarily committed.

He had wound up at a Massachusetts prison treatment center under a section of the law for substance abuse issues so serious that it put his own life or others’ at risk.

On Aug. 7, 2015, after a 25-day stay, he moved from prison directly into a Portland recovery house with peers trying to rebuild their lives, the first house like it that he had ever tried.

“Most of the times, the minute I got out of those settings, I’d go straight to the liquor store and drink,” Harvey said. “I wasn’t excited, I wasn’t hopeful about the future, none of that, I was just kind of curious.

“Nobody else in my life was going to allow me — my mom, my girlfriend, my friends — they didn’t want me coming back to them, it was really either this or the streets again.”

Nearly three years later, Harvey, 26, works full time, is pursing a master’s degree and has opened his third sober living house, this one on Oak Street.

Harvey lives in Portland, but he is now in Lewiston three times a week, hanging out with his Oak Street home’s three residents, performing random breathalyzer and urine tests and trying to get word out on what a recovery house is and why he believes it is good for the area.

“There’s all these people in Lewiston that are being relegated to the streets because all they can realistically get into at the moment is a sober house, but guess what, there isn’t one in Androscoggin County,” Harvey said. Until his.

Harvey grew up in Massachusetts and attended high school there, but for 10 years, from age 2 to 12, lived in Africa, where his mother worked for the United Nations.

Being committed to a Massachusetts prison treatment center is about as awful as it sounds, he said.

“I was wearing scrubs, I had a prison inmate ID on my chest,” Harvey said. “We filed single file to the chow hall for our mechanically separated turkey sandwiches. It wasn’t the Four Seasons, but it got the job done for me.”

Within six months of having moved to Maine, Harvey landed his first full-time job as a community health worker at a clinic for the homeless in Portland and, Harvey said, his eyes opened to the housing available to people battling substance use disorders. It tended to be in the Portland area — pricey and most did not allow residents to use prescriptions, such as methadone.

“I quickly came to realize that there’s a lot of people who pray on members of a very vulnerable group of people — people in recovery, people with a criminal record, people who can’t just sign a 12-month lease somewhere, for whatever reasons,” he said.

“I’ve been denied two apartments that I looked at due to a criminal record in early recovery. I’ve been denied a job bagging groceries at (a grocery store) due to a criminal record.”

In one living situation in Portland, paying $750 for a room in an apartment, “I later found out, the person who was subletting to all of us was making a killing off of us,” Harvey said.

He opened his first sober living house in Biddeford in December 2016,with $4,000 in start-up funding, after finding a willing landlord on Craigslist. It closed after a year, and Harvey has since filed a federal complaint against the city over it.

In addition to Lewiston, he also operates two sober houses in Sanford with business partner Eric Skillings, one for men with 10 residents and one for women with six.

The house on Oak Street, for men, has four rooms and six beds and charges $500 a month. Harvey said Journey House Sober Living is volunteer-run and designed to break even.

“Over half of the people we take in, when they move in, they pay nothing,” he said. “If they don’t have money, we’re not going to make that a barrier. If they do have money, we ask they pay and it helps us.”

There is a slew of requirements to stay, including mandatory house meetings, a minimum three-month commitment to stay, a curfew and no opposite-sex guests allowed at the house.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services does not maintain a list of sober houses in the state, nor does it certify them, according to a spokeswoman.  

Harvey’s two Sanford homes have been accredited by the Maine Association of Recovery Residences and, he said, the Lewiston home, which opened in May, is in the process.

In some ways, Harvey already considers the house here a success, he said, but he hopes to see it embraced by law enforcement, health care providers and the city.

[email protected]

Jesse Harvey, left, a Certified Intentional Peer Support Specialist (CIPSS), and founder of Journey House Sober Living, shakes the hand of Gov. Paul LePage at the ribbon cutting ceremony at Journey House on Oak Street in Lewiston earlier this month. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Jesse Harvey, top left, founder of Journey House Sober Living, watches as Pastor Catherine Anglea blesses one of the rooms during an open house at the Oak Street facility in Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Jesse Harvey talks to visitors outside Journey House Sober Living’s newest house on Oak Street in Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

filed under: