Addiction program in jeopardy after funding cut

Posted at 6:02 PM, Feb 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-02 18:02:55-05

The drug addiction recovery program Hope Now in Polk County is in jeopardy of shutting down after the county board decided Tuesday it will no longer fund the organization.

The decision comes on the heels of a scathing Inspector General report detailing wasteful spending and mismanagement.

In the last five years, the county has given the program more than $5 million in taxpayer money.

"I have lost complete confidence in this program," Commissioner Melony Bell said.

Interim Executive Director of Hope Now Marcus Stern sat down with some of the residents in the program Tuesday afternoon to discuss the future, while promising to take care of their needs.

"It's heartbreaking to me," he said of the decision. "I will admit that we have made missteps in management and some decisions that we have addressed."

The report that was released two weeks ago reveals the organization may have mishandled funds, giving some to board members, paying for cellphones for family members of staffers and failing to keep the books up to standards.

Stern defends the organization's spending, saying that county is paying for a service, and that service is to rehabilitate drug addicts like they did with Tania Kocher, who was once addicted to meth and heroin.

"(Hope Now) basically opened up a person that I didn't even know I had in me, to be honest," she said Tuesday morning.

Commissioner Bell said for $5 million, the county is not getting enough results. Only 165 people have graduated from the program, out of more than 500 enrolled.

That amounts to more than $35 thousand spent on every resident.

"We are stewards of the taxpayers' money. We are looking for outcomes, and what we want from our citizens," she said.

Since the vast majority of the program's funding comes from the county, drastic changes are certainly ahead.

"Let me be clear, Hope Now will not stop operating. The question is just at what size will we be operating," Stern said.

The organization has 60 days to figure out how to move forward from here and transition current residents into another addiction program. It is their legal responsibility to find them a new home.