South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Family Healing Center is being proposed for the former Mt. Oliver school building on Hays Avenue


Last updated 10/24/2018 at 8:11pm

Auberle is proposing to put a Family Healing Center in the former Mt. Oliver school building on Hays Avenue.

The former Mt. Oliver school building on Hays Avenue may soon find new life in a new unique program designed to help the families of recovering addicts, The Auberle Family Healing Center.

Auberle, a faith-based non-profit, is proposing to adapt the building to bring together recovering addicts and their families in a residential setting.

"Addiction of a caregiver is a significant problem in keeping the family intact," explained John Lydon, CEO of Auberle. Now, when a caregiver goes into addiction treatment, if the children don't have good family support, they may go into the county support system. The children may end up in an emergency shelter or foster care.

When the caregiver returns from treatment and the county tries to reunite the family, there's a lot of stress and a lot of issues that have to be dealt with going forward. There can be up to 15 different agencies coming into the home from all sides, Mr. Lydon said.

The Auberle program begins after the caregiver completes detox. Detox is not part of this program.

The addict has to show a willingness to change and move forward. Referrals will be made by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

The target group for the program is for families that have children five and under although they may have families that have older siblings of the target group. Currently, there are more than 500 families eligible for the service in the county. The program will not accept walk-in or drop in people.

While the program will accept referrals from throughout the county, Mr. Lydon expects several of them to be coming from local neighborhoods.

"The odds are overwhelming. We've looked at all the statistics of where all the need is and the need is in this area. So, the odds are, even if you randomly selected people they would come from the local area," Mr. Lydon said. "This is the heart of where the epidemic is crippling families and so it's one of the areas of the greatest need."

The Mt. Oliver school building had been converted into apartments and recently refurbished. The building was attractive for the program because of the number of two and three-bedroom apartments. Although there are 16 apartments in the building, only eight will be used for housing.

Some of remaining rooms will be converted into office and counseling spaces for staff and participants. While each of the apartments will have its own kitchen, a common kitchen will also be constructed where one meal a day people will meet for a community meal.

The program is concerned with the whole family. They are able to accommodate up to four children in a family. While they hope there are a mother and father in the family, they acknowledge most of the participants will probably be single parents. But they also understand that sometimes a focal point of the family is also a grandparent, aunt or uncle, those people may also be part of the program.

Children will be assessed by UPMC Children's Hospital and will have access to tutoring, mental health services, recreation activities and other services. If they are old enough to attend school, they will be able to go to their regular school.

Addiction of a caregiver is the number one reason children come into care with the county, Mr. Lydon explained.

While in the program, the addict does not work but will receive counseling for their addiction along with training in parenting, financial literacy, nutrition and cooking and more. Addicts participating in the program will not be permitted to leave the facility without an escort while they are in the program.

"This is a full-time program, not eight hours a day, all day," Mr. Lydons said.

Spouses will be eligible for Auberle Employment Institute training along with counseling and job support.

In addition to the building itself, the location was attractive to Auberle. They feel Mt. Oliver is in a central location in the county and is very accessible to transportation.

They anticipate families will spend between four and six months in the program before leaving to return to their homes.

"So instead of having these services go on for years with all these different people, we're trying to have this shorter intense period where we address with the family everything that's going on," Mr. Lydon said.

The Auberle Family Healing Center will be licensed by the state with a "3.5 License" and staffed 24-hours a day by as many as 25 employees. The building will only be permitted to be used for the licensed purpose.

This is a first of its kind program in the country. Auberle, and other service providers, have done individual parts of the program, but no one has brought all the components together before.

Mr. Lydon noted they like to hire local people whenever possible. Many of the employees are expected to be coming from the immediate area and he indicated they might be willing to post available jobs locally.

Mr. Lydon added Auberle would like to be a part of the community. They currently operate more than 20 different programs, offering family and youth services from workforce development to housing to behavioral health services and more. He anticipates their staff will be out in the community, working with neighborhood groups in a variety of ways.

"You won't see us from the program end, but you will see us from the organizational side," he said.

He noted they participate with the "Learn and Earn" program for youth and like to place kids in the municipalities where they have facilities. Auberle also operates their own construction, landscaping and catering companies.

Through their Auberle Employment Institute, they are connected to more than 100 businesses that hire people when they complete their training. The organization also teaches 11 national certifications that are in short supply in Western Pennsylvania, also connected to employers.

Before the center can open and operate, Mt. Oliver Borough must approve a zoning change. In addition, the state department of Drug and Alcohol must also review and approve all the plans.

Auberle would like to start the program with a few families within a few months of receiving all their approvals and continue to renovate and expand until they reach capacity.

If the state doesn't approve the incremental opening, it would take six to nine months to have all eight units available. Even if they have to wait until all renovations are complete before opening, they would still add families slowly, to allow the program to develop before reaching capacity.


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