Her Own Past as A Guide to Becoming a Recovery Entrepreneur
Stacey Payne, a 54-year-old southern California native, has gone through many ordeals in her own life: losing a baby in pregnancy, and not being able to birth children, struggling with cocaine and meth abuse, getting arrested many times, relapsing when her father passed away, and then becoming a recovery entrepreneur. She is now competing in alpaca show competitions, but that’s an entire story altogether.
Payne believed in her housing vision, and after working for others who did similar work, opened sober homes in northern California, Las Vegas, and then in northern Nevada. The Lyfe Recovery website shows current addresses at group homes in Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Dayton, Fallon and Elko.
“The first houses were actually completely funded by me,” she explains. “I took money out of my retirement and kind of bet on myself that I could do it. Since then, I've had the ability to gather a couple of investors who believe in the cause, so to speak. And everything now is self funded. The company is pretty much self funded, all its expansion. And we do that by charging fees to live with us. So the idea of someone living with us isn't to have a handout. It's a hand up. So they do pay rent. And that helps for us to provide the services and grow the company to more houses.”
Payne says she is also now looking for grants and more donations to help fund operations, which includes staff. When we conducted the interview, she said seven houses were operating with an average of 10 clients each.
Challenges, Success Stories and Tears
Despite many challenges, such as delays with the Elko City Council and permit denials over issues of parking spaces and the number of residents allowed in the homes she operates, as well as different licensing start and stop obstacles, Payne pointed to success stories.
She talked about a man without shelter in Reno who started using a wheelchair to carry around his oxygen tank, and then wasn’t able to walk anymore.
“Through the support of people in the house and us as staff, we encouraged him. We're like, okay, so you're only 53 years old… like let's get you walking again. You can do it. And we encouraged him and pushed him and put a foot up his butt then, and we got him a walker and we said, here, try it even five minutes a day. Let's get you in the walker. Right? And so fast forward to today, you know, almost a year … this man does not need a walker. He walks to the store, he walks to the park. He does have his oxygen. But because he wasn't homeless anymore, he was able to now get a smaller unit. I mean, he was able to get himself situated to where he could build up his lungs by exercising to where he can have a little unit that he takes with him and he doesn't need to haul that big heavy metal canister. Can you imagine changing a man's future? Like, I mean, it brings tears to my eyes. Just thinking about it, I'm blessed to be able to do something like that,” Payne said.
Difficulties of Homelessness and Most Basic Services
Payne says many people who haven’t experienced it themselves day to day, week to week, don’t always understand how difficult it is to get out of homelessness.
“You have nowhere to get mail, you have nowhere to shower, you have nowhere to leave your things… Like you can only carry so much. And if you do get a bed at the shelter, they make you leave. You know, I don't know exactly what the rules are here, but I know in Las Vegas at Catholic Charities … you have to be in line at 2:30 p.m. to try to get a bed that night... You have to pack up your stuff the next morning at 8:00 AM and carry whatever you can with you. And there's a little secure area outside that if you do have a suitcase you can leave it there. But like there's no, there's very few places where you can get mail, where you can get a call back.”
The precariousness of having no stable place can be debilitating, so that’s the key component in helping, she explains.
“How do you go for an interview when you have nowhere to shower? Where you don't have clean clothes … You know I asked a guy one day,I pulled over, and I saw him every single day in the entrance to the Walmart parking lot and I'm like, tell me your story... Cause I have a house right over here, I can put you in. Clark County has a voucher program and he's like, every day I have to buy new socks. I asked … like what do you spend your money on? How much do you make everyday panhandling? He said, I don't know, $75, $80, $90 I'm like, okay, $90 a day…. That's like, that's a good amount of money. If you're making 100 bucks a day and it's 30 days a month, you're making $3,000 a month. Why are you not living in a house?”
Those looking down on those without shelter is also foolish, she says.
“It can happen to anyone. It happens to anyone. Like I grew up in a great family. I grew up in an upper middle class family. I'm educated. I owned a business. I've owned a couple of businesses, but all it takes is, is a long enough situation to destroy your life. And like if somebody had said, when you're going to be a drug user, at 20, I would have been like what? So you know, people need to stop sitting in judgment and stop assuming that because that a person is in this situation right now, that that's the situation that, one they want to be in, and two they don't pray every single day that they can get out of somehow. And that's where I come in and that's where we need to come in. We need to have places that are actually affordable and actually available to people that want to try to change.”
Scaling Up Her Model and Working within a Community of Services
Payne believes if there were more initiatives like what she is doing and more support for these types of programs, it could do a world of good for communities around the country.
“It doesn't take millions to change someone's life,” she said. “Like we did it for under a thousand a month. You know, you can change somebody's life by just giving them housing and like I have, I have a lot of plans on what to do for expansion. But this model of wraparound services used correctly, put in place, can really help people.”
She’s not impressed by what most elected officials pursue as solutions in terms of the housing component.
“I don't think they're doing anything effective. I mean I'm going to be real honest about that. I think that there's a lot of talk and I know that there's a lot of talk and it goes on for years and years and years and I know there's a lot of moving parts to it, but like I came to northern Nevada two years ago and I've helped more people, I believe in the past two years that I've been here, housing people, I didn't wait for approval from anybody…. I just opened a house. I didn't have to figure out, I mean I had to figure out budgets obviously, but it doesn't take years to figure it out. Get a group of people, get a house together, put a program in, call me or consult. I mean we just do it. We don't have a bunch of meetings about it,” she said about her own approach, which also involves working with other organizations.
“Treatment for an individual is done by an organization like Hopes or the Community Health Alliance or at the hospital. Right. Or if they need a therapist, they see a therapist that's a licensed therapist. So we're able to stay below a threshold of needing higher level certifications. Of course we have inspections, we just had inspections by NAMS a couple of days ago where they come in and they make sure that the house is sound. Make sure that there's fire extinguishers, emergency plans, emergency exit plans, everything works in the house. The heaters work, the ovens work, the plumbing works… But those are standard things if you're going to house anybody …. So again, you don't have to spend a lot of time and a lot of money getting a lot of certifications because you're housing people and you're directing them to services that are already established in the community.”
Affordable and Accessible Housing with Progress in Life
Payne says there is a range of prices to be housed, but that discounts are given for those on fixed Social Security incomes.
”575 is our cheapest rent, 750 is our most expensive rent and it's for a two person room in a five or six bedroom home.”
Food is also provided initially to newcomers.
“So we do go to the pantries and make sure that there's always food available for somebody coming in that maybe, is not able to provide their own food yet. And then once they come in, we're going to make sure that we get them to the pantries so they can start stocking up on their own…. “
The next goal is to get boarders to become fully independent again and get employment if possible.
“It really is just about meeting a person where they're at, providing hygiene packs, maybe getting them through Good Shepherd’s to pick up some clothes and getting them the basics so they have a place that they can call their own, wake up, get their messages, get mail, cook a meal. So in a way, I'm like a parent to a bunch of adults that have just lost their way.”
She also has a system of sponsorship for new clients.
“If somebody in the community wanted to just sponsor a bed, for say a year, then someone that didn't maybe have the ability to pay right at the beginning, we could put them in that bed, say for a month and say, you've got 60 days in this bed. It's paid for. And during that 60 days, we’ve got to get you employment and you be able to cover your rent from that point forward.”
Registered sex offenders are the only population she can’t take currently, she says, but she is trying to change that.
“The reason for that is our homes are in single family neighborhoods and there's rules about how far someone can be from other children or from schools. And so there's some regulations that our homes currently just don't meet. It's my goal to be able to find a location where we would be able to have that population.”
Payne says she does check for violent offenses, and does thorough background checks on prospective clients, and that sometimes some just aren’t a good match.
“We've had to ask people to leave,” she said. “Unfortunately the level of care that they needed was above like what we could provide. So it was too dangerous for them and for us liability wise because their medical conditions were just too precarious for us to be able to handle. And I thought that, we just weren't able to provide the level of care that they needed. And that was really difficult. And it's difficult for the rest of the residents because they become a family. Like you have no idea. They squabble like siblings and they really become a family and they start to really care about each. So when something goes wrong, it really rocks the whole house. They're very protective of each other and we're very protective of them. You know what I mean? It's a group endeavor. It really is.”