SYCAMORE – Not long ago, Chris Riggs was a union bricklayer helping to expand the DeKalb County Jail. On Tuesday, however, he was moving into the county’s new sober living home for men on State Street as the house manager.
Riggs said there is still some work to do: The windows need curtains, walls are bare, and furniture including beds and dressers are needed for the eight men who ultimately will live in the house.
“We want to make it feel like home,” Riggs said.
He said he was hoping for a Feb. 1 opening day for the home, but that the inside work needed to be finished first.
“I don’t want it to start while being in progress,” he said.
People who have been sentenced to community service hours have been helping clean the house, Riggs said, adding that he planned to continue the practice.
He noted that there still were things the home needed, such as a stove and pieces of furniture, and that the facility would need donations before residents can move in.
Riggs said the home could use either donations of furniture and appliances or cash to purchase what’s needed.
On Thursday, the DeKalb County Board learned that the city of Sycamore had approved the home for occupancy.
The home, which will provide shelter for men going through programs in drug and driving under the influence courts, has been more than two years in the making.
Residents of the home would be participants in the county’s drug or DUI courts, and expected to live in a sober environment. It provides shelter, but they will also have rules to follow. The environment is meant to give them stability as well as keep them in a positive environment for recovery.
“These guys are in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous),” Riggs said.
They will have curfews, be expected to hold down jobs or be actively seeking work, and be subject to random drug and blood alcohol testing.
They will sign in and out when entering and leaving the home and will be putting in community service hours.
At the time, renovations were expected to cost about $55,000, with another $15,000 being spent to install a sprinkler system.
But sometime over the winter of 2015-16, furnaces in the home failed and pipes froze and burst, causing water damage throughout the building.
“We had to redo all of the architectural drawings,” said Mike Douglas, treatment court program coordinator. At one point last December, work was suspended on the home altogether because of the cost.
The cost to repair the water damage was more than $25,000, according to county documents, although that cost was covered by insurance. In November, county documents showed that including acquisition and remodeling, the county had paid $429,000 for the house.
Riggs believes in the program, and said he’s the right man for the house manager job because he’s been in halfway houses and is a drug court graduate himself.
“You pick yourself up and dust yourself off,” he said. He plans for the home to be more than just shelter. The home will provide resources for the residents to find jobs and complete their programs.
Riggs pointed to a room in the back of the house that could be called a sun room, with two exterior walls of floor-to-ceiling windows.
He said it would be used as a meeting space, but it would also be a great place for the residents to study for their programs.
Residents will pay rent while they stay there, he said, and if they don’t have a job in the home, then they will be expected to be looking for work. He said he’d been in homes before where residents were expected to be out of the house during certain hours, job-hunting or otherwise being productive.
Conscious of some of the reservations neighbors had about the home opening in their neighborhood, Riggs said neighbors wouldn’t see the residents hanging around the front of the house unless they are doing some sort of yard work.
“We’re putting feet to dirt,” he said. “They’ll be dressing up the community.”
Riggs said there are going to be a lot of house rules for the residents, and because he has completed similar programs himself, he said he knows some of the ways a resident might try to skirt the rules.
There is already a wait list.
“This house will be transformative for the men,” Riggs said.