Greenfield resident starts transitional housing initiative for women in recovery

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Michelle Hensley

INDIANA — Michelle Hensley has been working with women recovering from addiction for about a decade. In that time, she’s found that many of them relapse shortly after leaving the recovery facilities at which they’ve been staying.

These women need something to aid the transition between those institutional programs and re-entering society, she determined. And not just for women recovering from addiction, but other challenges as well, like trauma.

Relying on a background in recovery that’s both personal and professional, Hensley founded Community Arms. Led by a five-member board of directors and 15-member advisory board, the new nonprofit organization aims to bring transitional housing communities to central Indiana for women leaving recovery programs.

Hensley, a Greenfield resident who also serves as executive director of Community Arms, envisions pocket neighborhoods of cottages where recovering women can live with their children for up to two to three years.

The cottages’ front porches will face a central community yard, compelling residents to interact and develop relationships.

"In sobriety, one of the key components is not isolating and making sure you have that network of support you need while you’re in recovery," Hensley said.

The women will pay rent, according to information released on the initiative, which adds financial self-sufficiency is one of the first steps to transitioning to a sober lifestyle.

Resources and programming on topics like parenting and financial responsibility will also be available to the women, she added.

Hensley has been sober for more than nine years and has been working with women in recovery just about ever since. She is the daughter of an alcoholic and spent part of her childhood in a children’s home in Muncie and later worked at that children’s home.

Hensley attends Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield and led one of its Serve Day projects at Hope Center Indy, a facility just west of Marion County’s border with Hancock County that helps women exiting sex trafficking. Hensley wanted to continue helping Hope Center Indy and soon became its group volunteer coordinator. Now she serves as the organization’s transitional housing coordinator, and Hope Center is one of Community Arms’ partners.

Women leaving recovery often have bad or no rental histories and little to no employment histories, Hensley said, forcing them into economically challenged environments where addiction is commonplace and relapse is probable.

"What we were finding is that they don’t have the support that they need to stay sober," Hensley said.

Community Arms plans to offer a solution to that.

Hensley also volunteered as general contractor for Talitha Koum, a house in Greenfield where women suffering from addiction can live while they engage in a recovery program and learn how to transition to sober living.

She said her background as a former sales and marketing manager for an Ohio home builder will also lend well to her next endeavor.

Yvette Markey is one of Community Arms’ advisory board members and founder of the Indianapolis-based InTouch Outreach Center, which offers a variety of services connecting people with what they need to overcome challenges spurred by addiction, trauma and other mental health issues. The center addresses individuals individually by focusing on their specific backgrounds and needs, Markey said, as opposed to taking a "cookie-cutter" approach.

One of the biggest barriers Markey has seen throughout her work is housing.

"Especially for women that are re-entering society and trying to put those pieces back together," she said.

The risk is high for someone leaving the institutionalization of a recovery program coming straight back into the community, Markey continued, adding having a transitional space that’s safe, regulated and has connections to support services is beneficial.

Community Arms is throwing a Launch Party next month at The Freedom Barn, the event venue on Hope Center Indy’s campus. Darrell Mitchell, CEO of the Indianapolis-based recovery facility Progress House and founder of the Indiana Affiliation of Recovery Residences, will speak at the event. Appetizers, beverages, a silent auction and raffle will also be part of the festivities. Tickets are $25 and available at Community Arms’ Facebook page, facebook.com/communityarms.

The organization also accepts donations on its website, communityarms.org.

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WHAT: Community Arms Launch Party

WHEN: 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13

WHERE: The Freedom Barn at Hope Center Indy, 11850 Brookville Road, Indianapolis

TICKETS: $25 at facebook.com/communityarms

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