“How do we empower the voice of lived experience to help shape policy and programming?” Jason Howell asks.

social entrepreneurshipThe Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as a “process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”

As executive director of RecoveryPeople, Jason Howell helps people living with mental illness understand and believe in the possibility of recovery—not by simplifying it, but by putting its principles into action as a social entrepreneur. In this podcast episode, he discusses the intersection of recovery principles, policy and entrepreneurship.

Rooting Lifestyle in a Culture of Recovery

Howell self-identifies as being in “long-term recovery” from mental health and substance use issues. Like many others who share the road to recovery with him, he knows that clinical treatment alone is not a one-stop solution for all.

“It’s really a lifestyle change—a paradigm change,” Howell says. “I’ve often heard people describe it as transplanting yourself from a culture and lifestyle of addiction into a culture and lifestyle of recovery.”

While lifestyle changes often boil down to personal will, a shift in culture cannot occur without social networks and institutions. Human relationships are instrumental to individual growth and mobility.

Even if people want to make the leap, they often find it difficult to visualize or believe in their ability to do so. “I think that’s why connecting with individuals who walk the path—who are living recovery and reflecting recovery principles—is so key,” Howell says.

Just as Howell’s personal experiences inform his understanding of the meaning of recovery, his entrepreneurial skillset informs his vision of what recovery might look like at a systems level—what constitutes an “ecosystem of recovery support services.”

RecoveryPeople is a designated recovery community organization (RCO), which means the people who govern it are in recovery. Howell explains that the breadth of functions an RCO can serve is wide. Service provision—in the form of recovery coaching, housing and so on—is one of them, as is advocacy.

RecoveryPeople began as a podcast in 2012 and went on to become the face of a statewide network of individuals and families in recovery and recovery organizations. The name became so recognizable that Howell’s organization, once called SoberHood, was recently rebranded as RecoveryPeople.

Policymakers and other community influencers are not always familiar with the concept and language of recovery. “Who better to guide policies that would support someone along that path than people who’ve been there?” Howell suggests. “That really understand the systems, the barriers and the solutions from the ground level.”

Recovery from the Ground Up

Howell also manages Texas the Texas Recovery Oriented Housing Network (TROHN), an entity under the RecoveryPeople umbrella. TROHN certifies “recovery residences” in Texas.

TROHN its cue from the National Alliance for Recovery Residences, which established a roadmap for expanding recovery housing (e.g. recovery homes and centers) and created a certification system that states can implement voluntarily. Howell hopes that future legislation will recognize the impact of recovery housing.

“If we want to create an ecosystem of quality recovery options for people, then we need to incentivize the marketplace to do that,” Howell says.

RecoveryPeople’s next move speaks to Howell’s insights as an entrepreneur. A new SAMHSA grant will fund the creation of a “recovery incubator” that injects business models with recovery-oriented principles.

When recovery practices are deeply integrated across a community, it paves the way for a better quality of life for its residents. “It takes a village,” Howell says. “All of us, together, will help this recovery movement move forward.”

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