Kevin Simmers lost his daughter, Brooke, to the opioid epidemic a little over two years ago. She was just 19. In her honor, he and his wife, Dana, Brooke’s stepmother, were motivated to create a local sober-living house for women in Hagerstown. Ironically, a dream of Brooke’s, the facility will end up costing about $1 million—of which about half has been raised. Ultimately, Brooke’s House will be a home for adult women recovering from alcohol and substance-use disorder.
Operating under non-profit status, Brooke’s House will sit on approximately 3.5 donated acres at 17663 Technology Boulevard, Hagerstown (MD), and is set for completion in October, with an opening date in early 2019. The home will provide a community-based, safe, stable, and emotionally supportive living environment for adult women in the early stages of substance-abuse recovery. Ensuring a tranquil, home-like facility, Brooke’s House will ensure state-of-the-art treatment and recovery services and resources to help residents move forward to achieve their dreams of living drug-free and productive lives.
Joining the multitude of parents in the region who have, sadly, been inspired to confront the opioid epidemic by starting a project in honor of a lost child (many of whom we’ve covered in these pages), Simmers’ compassion came by way of passion—though it took 30 years to come full circle.
“I came out of high school in 1983 and got on the front lines of the drug war,” he said. “Reagan said we needed to ‘get rid of this scourge,’ so I joined the Air Force, trained drug dogs, got out in 1987, got hired by the Hagerstown Police Department, went to work for the Washington County Narcotics Task Force, was deputized through the Drug Enforcement Administration, and knew what my mission was.”
To Simmers, there was nothing more important than the drug epidemic, and his approach then was in stark contrast to his views today. “My attitude was that we needed to lock every single person up—anybody using, selling, or involved in any way. You were simply under arrest. You can Google my name and search all my arrests—see for yourself.”
But as his career unfolded, he began to see many of these people for what they were: people. “I had a change of heart; later in my career, I began to realize that a lot of the people I’d arrested weren’t bad people, genuinely—they just needed help. I mean, nobody truly wants to be a criminal and an addict. But they’re addicted. They do things they wouldn’t dream of doing in their former life. They’re lost.”
And then one day, his war, and whatever was left of his hardline attitude towards addiction—and the ones who suffered from it—came to an arduous halt. “When my daughter became an addict,” he said, “my war on drugs officially ended. I saw first-hand what this does to the person—to the family—to everyone involved. My battle quickly shifted and was now on behalf of the people. I had new people in my life—the addicts—and I work for them now.”
Tackling the Issues
Life being what it is, Simmers and his family not only suffered along with his daughter through her addiction, and its brutal end, but he got to see how truly difficult it is for families and friends to find the help they need for a loved one seeking recovery services.
“Working with this as a police officer for thirty years, and now three years on this side, I can tell you nobody wants to be in this shape (addicts)… they hurt the people closest to them,” he maintained. “The loved ones are the ones that get crushed. But the problem is we just don’t have enough help. If you break your leg, you walk right into the hospital. Chest pains—same thing. But if you’re an addict, it’s not the same. It’s terrible the way we treat people.”
Needless to say, Simmers’ experience was the motivation behind Brooke’s House. “Absolutely it was,” he stressed. “I hate to say that it took a death in my family to get motivated to do something about it, but that’s exactly what happened. And I hope and pray that the people who are giving to us and helping us out never have to suffer through what we went through.”
One of the main concerns for Simmers is that the system seems upside down at this point—with no shortage of complaints and proclamations, but still nothing being done, and worse, the wrong people are being tasked to tackle the issues.
“You can’t get treatment. Listen, I’m on the streets all the time now—talking to people that are addicted—people committing burglaries, selling themselves, etc. They tell me all the time ‘okay, I’m ready to get treatment,’ and I can’t do it. They’re asking me for help and I can’t give it to them.
“I’ve spoken in Chicago, North Carolina, Virginia; I’ve been on FOX News; received donations from Australia, England, Kuwait. Everyone’s feeling the pain of this. The world is looking at us—at this region—and we’re failing.”
The ultimate question, said Simmers, centers around: “Are we going to treat this as a health problem or a criminal problem? This country needs to quit talking to the attorney general about this and talk to the surgeon general—quit talking to the local police chief and talk to the health officer. We need to quit talking to the state’s attorney and talk to the hospital administrators—and find out why someone can’t walk in and get treated, or get any kind of help that can lead to worthwhile recovery.”
With that in mind, he and his wife went about designing Brooke’s House so that its inhabitants will get the treatment and services they need and not be treated like criminals.
“One thing that distinguishes it will be that it’s a year-long stay,” he pointed out. “We’ll provide mental health and addiction counseling, and create an internal community that gives them love and cultivates hope.”
A Productive Path
Brooke’s House will consist of 16 beds (eight bedrooms/two women per room/a bathroom in each room) within 8,300 square feet. “We’re going to treat these folks with dignity and respect,” Simmers emphasized. “We’re not going to cram them into a house. And our staff will be in an adjacent house—with mental health and substance-abuse counselors always available.”
Essentially, upon arrival, a new resident will spend the first 90 days with no contact to the outside world. “They’re working on themselves—getting themselves clean during that ninety days,” said Simmers. “They’ll work in the house; we’ll also have a chocolate business working out of the house: Brooke’s House Chocolates.”
The chocolate business will help to support house operations and pay for staff. After 90 days, a resident will transition to phase 2, explained Simmers. “We will still do mental health and addiction counseling, but at that point, they’ll be able to work outside of the house as well. They’ll also pursue their GED if they need to. After that, it’s phase three—the last phase of the program, which is five months long.”
The final phase, according to Simmers, involves residents continuing to work outside of the house, but also paying a nominal rent to live at the house. At this point, these residents will also be serving as mentors for other residents with less time at the house.”
As focused as Simmers is on getting the first Brooke’s House up and running, he’s certainly open to seeing the idea spread. “I’d love to use this footprint and put it in other locations—all around this region. We’re not warehousing people; they’re going to want to come here—because we genuinely want to help.”
Moving forward, the public can follow progress and contribute to the cause at the above links for the website and Facebook. And keep an eye out for a June 7 fundraising picnic—via the links.