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Milwaukee addict recovery home facing questions after five OD deaths since 2017

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A recovery home for drug addicts near 29th and Wisconsin in Milwaukee has been host to five overdose deaths since the start of 2017.

Questions are now being raised about how the facility is run.

Our Safe Place is a not-for-profit transitional facility home to 50 men reacclimating to a world outside of rehab.

People who live there say the home helps them choose sobriety daily.

“This is a great place for a person that really wants to stop using,” said Greg Russell, an addict for 20 years.

Clarence Carter, an addict for 45 years, says living at Our Safe Place has given him hope again.

The facility is not a halfway house so the residents live there voluntarily.

Belying the resident testimonials are Milwaukee County records showing of the more than 450 drug deaths since New Year’s 2017, five of them happened at Our Safe Place.

“That is a lot to me,” said Andy Liss, Our Safe Place’s program manager.

Trevor Stricklin was one of the five, overdosing on January 2, 2017, at the age of 28.

“He was looking to the future,” said Lisa Stricklin, Trevor’s mother. “He had a plan. He was a smart guy. He had good things to offer.”

Relapse came suddenly for Trevor, his life unexpectedly snatched away from a family who are still hurting.

“It’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” Lisa Stricklin said. “Parents aren’t supposed to bury their kids.”

Lisa has taken a proactive role in fighting the drug epidemic, looking for greater accountability throughout the system.

Liss says after each death, he’s confronted with the question of what went wrong.

"Every time it happens we've changed something we do to try to combat that," he said.

There are now bed checks every night. Having visitors requires 24-hour notice from residents. House meetings are held every other week.

But some of the people who live at Our Safe Place say the staff can only do so much.

"If you're going to keep on using heroin, of course, you're going to die,” Carter said. “You're looking to die. You're looking to kill yourself."

Liss reveals the depth of the crisis when he says some might call it a miracle that only five have died in that span.

"I'm not a social worker. I'm not licensed,” Liss said. “I'm an economics major who likes what I do and likes to fight this fight."

Our Safe Place doesn’t offer professional treatment and thus needs no licenses.

The directors learned recently they do need a special use permit to operate as a transitional living facility, something they’ve never had.

Liss says they’re now applying.

"Many people have been saved here, like literally,” he said. “There's NARCAN [the overdose-reversing drug] in our front lobby."

With no easy answers, change comes slowly.

Lisa hopes Trevor’s struggle can facilitate solutions, as she holds onto him always.

"He is free from his addiction now and is whole in heaven so that does give me some peace," she said.

Liss and his family own the building they run Our Safe Place from. He says when they took it over in 2005, it was already being used as a recovery home, and not wanting to kick everyone out, they decided just to continue with it themselves.

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