For years in Middle Georgia, there was no halfway house for people who had recently completed drug or alcohol detox efforts.
And for years, Albert Billingslea tried to change that.
So it was fitting Thursday that River Edge Behavioral Health Center opened a new 14-bed home called the Billingslea Recovery Residence, which will fill that need in the community.
“It’s been about 20 years in the making,” said Andy Galloway, a River Edge board member. “It’s always been at the top of (Billingslea’s) agenda, to have this community service, for a long time. The acute need for this has increased over time. ... In his quiet way, (Billingslea) fought for this.
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“He didn’t want any fanfare, he really didn’t want the recognition. ... But it was his vision and foresight that made this happen.”
Billingslea and Billy Randall were the first black members of the Bibb County Commission. Billingslea said Thursday he was grateful to have his name on the facility.
“It’s a distinct honor,” he said. “It’s for the good of the community. That’s what basically it is. We needed something like this. Now that we’ve got it, it’s going to be a tremendous help.”
Bibb County provided nearly $250,000 to renovate the building.
“This has been one of our favorite projects for a long time,” Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said.
“Albert Billingslea has worked so long at this. We don’t have many beds, but it’s a start.”
The facility, located off Log Cabin Drive on First Avenue, can host up to 14 men between the ages of 21 and 65 at one time. Entrants into the program must complete a physical exam, must have gone through detoxification and not have a history of violence. Residents who live at the home can stay there up to a year, though Tiffany Russell, River Edge’s community affairs manager, said the usual time of residence is expected to be about six months.
“This is for after detoxification,” she said. “They learn how to live in sobriety. They are still required to go to their support programs. They’ll learn daily living skills and get support in their sobriety.”
Sam Thomas, program manager at the facility, said before now, recovering addicts could only go to Atlanta or south Georgia, because there was no such facility in the midstate. For patients who didn’t have transportation available, it meant they couldn’t follow through with their recoveries.
“We had a lot of recidivism,” Thomas said. “When you can remove all obstacles and not stand in a person’s way, it helps with the long-term recovery.”
The facility is in a three-level renovated home and features a full kitchen, a living room area and seven bedrooms with two beds apiece. It’s run by a full-time staff of five, Russell said.
Local officials who attended Thursday’s reception said they were impressed with what they saw.
“I can’t say enough about the significance of a place like this,” said state Rep. Bubber Epps, D-Dry Branch. “These are people who are trying to take a corrective action to re-establish themselves. ... Mr. Billingslea deserves a lot of credit for taking the lead on this, as well as the River Edge program. They are a leading agency in the state in providing service.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.