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Bay Area First Step

Bay Area First Step residents Robert Malcolm, left, and Johnny Frison, right, and cook Jason Paul, center, joke around in the kitchen during the facility’s open house on Thursday, Dec. 10. Bay Area First Step provides alcohol- and drug-free transitional housing for residents during their recovery.

NORTH BEND — The image of Tasha Stafford walking into Bay Area First Step today starkly contrasts her first experience entering the facility many years ago.

May 24, 2004, the date of her sobriety, freely slips off the tongue as she sits in her office as a case manager.

But before that date and just like all others who walked through those doors, drugs and alcohol had taken control of Stafford's life.

“For me, I just needed to hit my bottom physically, spiritually and emotionally,” Stafford said. “The way I look at it was the alcohol and drugs had my soul. I was a walking zombie and while I was living, I was dead inside.”

Although she had gone through treatment before, Stafford had to make a change with incarceration staring her right in the face.

“I was out and about for eight years, started meth when I was about 25 and was in outpatient treatments and inpatient treatments,” Stafford said. “Bay Area First Step happened to be my last because I was done. I was looking at prison time from several marijuana charges, several meth charges, one DUII and I just had enough.”

As the primary provider of alcohol- and drug-free housing in Coos County, Bay Area First Step gave Stafford a safe and stable environment to seek treatment and recovery, with a plethora of resources literally just across the street.

“We're lucky because we have ADAPT across the street, Coos County Mental Health across the street, Coos County Corrections, the employment department right there, Child Welfare right there,” executive director Steve Sanden said. “Everything people need is right here.”

Taking advantage of those resources, Stafford has become one of the many success stories for Bay Area First Step. She's chosen to use her sobriety for the good of others and to work for the nonprofit, progressing from secretary to case manager.

“The pain I was dealing with was so great,” Stafford said. “Low self-esteem, couldn't look people in the eye, had kids, one of which I hadn't seen in many, many years, but when Steve was looking at me to become the secretary, I think that tied it all in. I always wondered what my purpose in life was, and I think it's to have a passion for this job.”

For many people like Stafford, substance abuse issues take a toll on all aspects of their lives, which is why providing the right environment is integral in turning their lives around.

"It's especially tough for people that have substance abuse disorders and possibly bad credit, bad rental history, sometimes criminal history, so it's a huge challenge," Sanden said. "That's another reason why we're wanting to get folks involved, understand what's going on, what resources are available and also what's still needed, because there is still a great deal needed."

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From its origin in a house in Bunker Hill, Bay Area First Step has served over 1,100 individuals since 1995 and has grown into a 30-bed transitional housing facility at 1942 Sheridan Ave. in North Bend in addition to offering other housing services.

But given the growing drug and alcohol problems in the community and low vacancy levels, there is more work to be done.

In the past three years alone, Bay Area First Step has provided housing for 287 people, including 63 children.

"We need more permanent housing for sure," Sanden said. "Right now, we have 16 units we operate on Newmark Avenue right now. We have seven slots we partner with Oregon Coast Community Action that we can house seven individually, chronically homeless so we can provide rental subsidies and support services for those folks."

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Another one of those individuals is Jason Paul, a former resident and the current cook at the facility, whose life hit rock bottom after Child Protective Services took away his son and daughter.

"I lost them to CPS because I got drunk and got into a fight, so by then they took them," Paul said. "I wanted them back so they said to enroll in the ADAPT program and stop drinking. It was hard at the beginning, kids taken and still drinking, but before I got in here, I said 'That's it. I want my kids back.'”

Providing that supportive environment, Paul was encouraged by people like Stafford and Sanden, who also was a former resident and turned his life around.

"Both with Steve and Tasha, they've gone through this program, and to see to where they've progressed now, turn it all around and give back, it shows a lot," Paul said. "You don't want a drug or an alcohol counselor to learn something out of a book. You want them to be down that dirty road, to relate better by being down there and it really helps."

Celebrating 10 months of sobriety on Dec. 2, Paul had gotten his children back and moved into a two-bedroom apartment with the help of Bay Area First Step.

Given his life-changing experience, Paul is eager to continue working with the facility and hopes to become a mentor for others who were in his position.

"Use this place as a stepping stone back into society and get on your feet, find a job and try and stay sober," Paul said. "It's a start in the right direction, and now that I'm facing forward, I can take that next step."

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Reporter Devan Patel can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 249, or by email at devan.patel@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DevanJPatel.

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