A former bed-and-breakfast inn opened Thursday as the first sober house in this former mill town. Breaking the Cycle Recovery Residency has seven bedrooms and can house 14 women. Credit: Courtesy of Breaking the Cycle Recovery Residency

The first resident at a new recovery home for women in Millinocket was set to move in Thursday. The woman grew up in the former mill town but has been living on the streets of Bangor for 12 years.

She, and others like her, are the reason Heidi Wheaton pursued her dream of opening Breaking the Cycle Recovery Residency.

Wheaton, who is executive director of the home and also in long-term recovery herself, marked the opening of the home at a press conference Thursday at the Bangor Area Recovery Network in Brewer.

“We want to help women in recovery find their gifts and what they’re passionate about,” she said in the brochure for the sober house. “We help them find themselves and what makes them happy.”

Heidi Wheaton and Randy Jackson before a press conference to announce a seven-bedroom recovery home for women in Millinocket will have its first resident move in on Thursday. Heidi Wheaton, who is in long term recovery, is the executive director of Breaking the Cycle Recovery Residency.  Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

It is the first sober house for women in Millinocket, according to Wheaton.

The seven-bedroom home, at 177 Central St., is a former bed-and-breakfast that can house up to 14 residents.

Wheaton did not reveal the purchase price, but said she has applied for grants to cover operational costs. So far, she has not received any state or federal funding but has been supported by community members.

Staff will be onsite 24 hours a day to do drug testing, facilitate medically assisted treatment programs, help residents find volunteer work and jobs in the community and move toward family reunification through a 12-step program based on the Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous models.

A former bed-and-breakfast inn opened Thursday as the first sober house in this former mill town. Breaking the Cycle Recovery Residency has seven bedrooms and can house 14 women. Credit: Courtesy of Breaking the Cycle Recovery Residency

Residents are expected to pay $600 a month to live there.

Breaking the Cycle, a nonprofit, obtained a mortgage to purchase the house with the help of board member Randy Jackson, who is on the Millinocket Town Council. The home has been certified by the Maine Association of Recovery Residences and the Maine State Housing Authority.

The opening of the new house in northern Penobscot County is part of a statewide and grassroots effort to fill a critical need for services for those with substance use disorders in rural Maine.

On Valentine’s Day PIR2Peer, a recovery center similar to the Bangor Area Recovery Network, opened in a former car dealership at 1009 Central St. in Millinocket. PIR stands for people in recovery.

Joanna Russell, Erika Farnlof, Michelle Anderson, and Heidi Wheaton (right to left) announced the opening of a seven-bedroom recovery home for women in Millinocket. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Just as word was getting out that they were open, COVID-19 hit Maine and it was forced to close, co-founder Michelle Anderson said Thursday.

It has since reopened from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The drop-in center has become a hub for recovery in the Katahdin area but Anderson and her co-founders have had “to roll with the punches” through the pandemic.

“We ask people to do one thing for us when they come in — to tell three friends about us and to ask those three friends to tell three friends,” Anderson said.

She worked with two other women for about a year to open the center.

The number of opioid deaths in the community spurred them to action. The Maine attorney general’s office keeps overdose statistics by county and for a few large municipalities but not for smaller towns such as Millinocket. In 2019, the most recent year for which there are final numbers, 53 people died of overdoses in Penobscot County, with 28 of them in Bangor.

Erika Farnlof, Wabanaki Public Health Community Wellness Center, spoke at the press conference announcing the opening of Breaking the Cycle Recovery Residency in Millinocket. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Of those, 48 deaths were a result of opioid overdoses, with 27 of them reported in Bangor. Last year, 380 people died in Maine of a drug overdose with 318 of those deaths linked to opioid use.

A third facility is being planned in the Millinocket region designed to meet the needs of Maine’s tribal members in recovery, Erika Farnlof, treatment coordinator for Wabanaki Public Health, said Thursday.

Plans include a Community Wellness Center and a residential home for men next year.