JOHNSTOWN, Colo. — A new sober living home in Johnstown, offering men overcoming drug and alcohol addiction a place to stay and a community of support, is being met with pushback from neighbors and community leaders.
Having just celebrated its soft opening on Dec. 1, The Dirt Road to Recovery Home is being called a risk to safety and property values by many living nearby. But for Kyle Higgins, the newly built home in a quiet neighborhood represents nothing less than a dream come true.
"About two years ago, I met this girl named Angela," he recalled, sitting at the kitchen table. "We started dating. She's a nurse, and we kind of combined our thoughts and finances together in this house."
The house is a dream for Higgins for two reasons. Personally, it is a physical symbol of his own second chance in life. In high school, he was known in his friend group for being the one to say no to drugs and alcohol, Higgins said, even when his teammates were saying yes.
"I was kind of like the all-American kid in high school," Higgins recalled. "I didn't drink. I didn't smoke. I played sports."
For Higgins — like many who find their way into addiction — the disease showed up in his life when he least expected it. After attending the University of Wyoming, he participated in a "jackpot rodeo" near Laramie and was badly injured. A doctor referred him to a pain specialist, who in turn prescribed him large amounts of pain medications.
"I guess you could say from there it kind of snowballed. They prescribed me 330 milligrams of Oxycontin and 210 milligrams of Valium a month," Higgins said. "I took them as prescribed. I never blamed the doctor, but I did trust him, you know."
Those prescribed pain pills became the on-ramp to hard drugs, including heroin, cocaine and meth. At his rock bottom, he was injecting daily and living on the streets in Denver.
That's one reason the house in Johnstown is his dream come true. He has gone from homeless to having a roof over his head.
There's a second reason. Higgins said he will never forget the day he got the phone call that he had been accepted into a recovery program.
"I answered [the call], and it was this guy named Rob Wolf. And he's like, 'Kyle, we have a — we have a bed for you,'" Higgins recalled, with tears welling up in his eyes. "Man, I hit my knees and started crying because I knew I was gonna maybe live. I knew if I could get into a program I could live."
After graduating from his recovery program, he swore to himself he would pay it forward. Now he is by opening his door to others in the same spot he was in.
As of Dec. 1, the house he bought with his fiancé officially became home to his most important mission: The Dirt Road to Recovery, a sober living home for men wanting to put and keep their addictions in the rearview mirror.
Higgins has worked with the state to receive certification and plans to house up to eight men at a time. One is a man named Andy, who asked to not share his last name.
Andy believes firmly in the mission and has stepped up to help as a house manager. He will help cook meals, keep the house and yard maintained and facilitate the growth of the community between the men who are accepted into the program.
"I am an alcoholic. I am part of the program," Andy told Denver7. "But you know, it's steps. You know, recovery is hard. You can't do it by yourself."
That internal community, both Higgins and Andy said, is key to the vision of The Dirt Road to Recovery and successful sobriety. Higgins, who is about to celebrate his eighth year sober, said isolation is one of the most critical things to avoid so as not to relapse.
But the group home nature of the project is one of several things that neighbors and some city leaders are now objecting to.
At a recent town council meeting, several residents spoke during public comments to oppose its presence in their neighborhood. The neighbors said the home will make their kids less safe and negatively hurt their property values. Higgins said he has received many messages online from community members accusing him of putting their families in danger.
In a news release at the beginning of December, the Town of Johnstown announced changes to its land use and development codes as they relate to group homes. The town said these changes will help "grant reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities seeking equal access to housing under the Federal Fair Housing Act."
"Under the new requirements, a group home must be operated by a governmental agency or nonprofit qualified to provide care and supervision in order to operate in Johnstown," the statement reads. "In addition, group homes shall be required to comply with state, county and local codes, licensing requirements, and occupancy limits."
Denver7 reached out to the Town of Johnstown for comment and clarification on how the ordinance changes could impact The Dirt Road to Recovery. We have not heard back as of publication of this article.
Higgins and Andy, both parents themselves, said they understood the reaction from neighboring families but are asking for the chance to prove they'll be good neighbors.
"We're not here to hurt anybody," Andy said. "We're just here for family, for us all to get along and have a safe place for us. That's all we're asking."