BATON ROUGE -- In January 2016, René LeBlanc arrived in Baton Rouge with $100, an alcoholics anonymous book, and a Bible.
After completing a 28-day treatment in Marksville, Louisiana, LeBlanc had just moved into a men’s sober living home, hoping for a clean slate. Though he had a few possessions, he was basically “starting from scratch,” and the first thing he needed was a job.
That didn’t come easy.
For most of his adult life, LeBlanc had worked as an offshore consultant in the oil industry, at one point making six figures a year before addictions cost him the high-paying gig. When he moved to Baton Rouge, his prospects were much slimmer — a common problem recovering addicts face, he said.
Still, he kept searching.
LeBlanc’s first job was delivering flowers, which paid him minimum wage. Though his second job paid more, driving a vacuum truck for porta potties wasn’t exactly the life LeBlanc envisioned for himself.
He wanted more, and he believed it was out there.
“That was a real crappy job,” LeBlanc said with a laugh. “So many times I prayed to God saying, ‘Surely it has to be better than this.’ It was very humbling.”
Eventually, things did get better. LeBlanc stayed in the sober living home for about a year, and this time, the change was real. He bought a car, moved into his own place, found a church, and married his wife, Rena.
But as LeBlanc continued in his recovery journey, a thought entered his mind about those who were starting their own: What if sober living homes could offer recovering addicts more?
For the last year, that’s exactly what he’s set out to do.
LeBlanc, a Watson resident, is the founder and administrative director of Crossroads Recovery House, a Christian-based ministry that provides sober living homes to men and women suffering from substance abuse, homelessness, pretrial diversion, and mental health issues.
At Crossroads Recovery House, the goal is for residents “to grow spiritually, mentally, emotionally and financially and transition back into productive members of society.” Residents accomplish that through a six to 12-month transitional living program that offers shelter, food, clothing, hygiene items, counseling, job placement, financial education, and transportation.
“Crossroads is taking a holistic approach to recovery,” LeBlanc said. “I remind everyone that success here is not measured by our bank account — it’s measured by each person who becomes the man and woman of God they were created to be.”
The reason LeBlanc said he started Crossroads was because he felt the sober living homes he had seen weren’t doing enough. During his time in Marksville, LeBlanc said it was acceptable for residents to do anything they wanted — “cuss like a sailor… sleep with everything… and keep your old mentality, as long as you could pay rent and pass a drug screen, everything else was allowed.”
To LeBlanc, that approach didn’t scratch the surface of “true recovery.”
“You notice so many people go into an AA meeting and say the right things and then walk out the door and act like a totally different person,” he said. “I didn’t see real change happening. That’s why I wanted a faith-based aspect for recovery.”
LeBlanc started researching how to start a non-profit organization in October 2017, personally filling out the “short 23-page” IRS application required for non-profit status. Once he was approved, LeBlanc developed a board, started raising funds, and began searching for potential houses.
Like his job search, it was not easy.
Looking for homes presented several issues for LeBlanc, who was upfront with each homeowner he met about what he intended to do inside the house. But after at least eight denials, LeBlanc finally found a homeowner who seemed eager to join.
“The homeowner was really just excited about the idea of being a part of helping people in their recovery,” LeBlanc said.
Crossroads Recovery House officially opened its doors on Aug. 15, 2018, when three men moved into a three-bedroom home off Prescott Road in Baton Rouge.
A year later, Crossroads now has three homes in the Baton Rouge area — two for men and one for women — that house 42 recovering addicts. In addition to 16 women and children, the women’s home on Goodwood Boulevard also houses the organization’s main office, a classroom, and a meeting room used by residents of all three homes.
Along with finding employment and passing a drug screen, residents are required to attend the Celebrate Recovery Christian 12-step program on Mondays, counseling/education meetings on Tuesdays, weekly house meetings, a recovery group on Fridays, and church on Sundays. On Thursdays, guest pastors or community leaders speak with the residents.
“The way we put it: We’re not a daycare center and we’re not a lockdown facility — you’re here on your own free will,” LeBlanc said. “We have a set of rules that we require people to abide by… because you’re here to get it together.”
Daily files are kept for each resident to track their progress throughout the program. By the first month, residents should have a job; by the third month, a checking account; and by the sixth month, a savings account and hopes to purchase their own transportation.
After one year, the goal is for residents to sit down with staff and discuss potential exit strategies, though it’s different for every case.
“Nobody wants to live here forever,” LeBlanc said. “Our residents are more than welcome to be here longer than a year, and we’re willing to work with them as long as they need, but we want them to be contributing members of society and out on their own.”
Though funds are always an issue — monthly overhead for the three houses is roughly $12,000 — LeBlanc said he has established relationships with several community partners to help in the endeavor.
The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank provides Crossroads with 10,000 pounds of food per month; the Christian Life Center does mental health assessments; Seaside Behavioral Hospital provides psychological evaluations; and Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS) offers residents job readiness training and helps them find full-time employment.
Crossroads currently has four people on staff, including Kayce Laurie, the house manager for the women’s home who also serves as the organization’s in-take coordinator. Laurie joined LeBlanc’s staff around the time the women’s home opened in June, and her duties include overseeing all three houses and reporting back to LeBlanc the day-to-day activities.
A recovering drug addict herself, Laurie said they have reestablished relationships for three mothers and their children in a little more than a month.
“It’s my passion, and it’s what I know how to do,” she said. “It’s what helps me in my own journey of sobriety.
“I’ve been where they are,” she said later. “I’ve lived on the streets, eaten out of dumpsters — I’ve done all of these things. My goal now is to guide people in the right direction.”
LeBlanc said his ultimate goal is to open “a fully-functional Christian treatment center with paid Christian professionals and staff,” which will require “a big building, a lot of staff and a lot of money.”
Currently, Crossroads is funded by donations as well as weekly rent payments of $150 from its residents, who usually arrive to the sober living homes “with nothing.”
“Financially, this is a huge struggle,” LeBlanc said. “We have faith in God to provide, but our main source of income after that are struggling addicts coming in with nothing. We’re relying on them to get a job and fulfilling their commitment instead of walking out on us.”
“But we want to dig deeper than just drugs being the problem, so we’ll keep working,” he said later. “It’s about true healing, and you have to get past the surface problem to the roots for that to happen. So we are using the sober living homes as a vehicle to get us to our ultimate goal.”
For more information on Crossroads Recovery House, visit www.crossroadsbr.org or the “Crossroads Recovery House” page on Facebook.