At a special Clark County Council meeting on the last Tuesday in February, the seats were nearly full with dozens of community members. A handful of audience members wore shirts with sayings such as “Straight Outta Addiction” and “Sober Mode: On.”
The topic at hand: a lease extension for Grace Lodge, a house through XChange Recovery Services, run by pastors Vicky and Bill Smith.
Since 2010, XChange Recovery has leased Grace Lodge from Clark County, offering transitional housing to hundreds of women during their recovery journey.
In July 2022, the last lease extension was issued to XChange Recovery. According to Clark County Manager Kathleen Otto, the lease stated that due to rezoning, an extension would be issued only until Jan. 31 to allow XChange time to relocate.
The lodge was zoned in rural land, with an occupational use permit but no conditional use permit, which is needed for the new zoning.
According to Vicky Smith, XChange Recovery was not notified when the rezoning occurred, nor was it notified of the need to be out by the end of January. Smith first heard of the need to move on Jan. 10, she said.
On Jan. 31, the county received a request from XChange’s legal counsel for another six-month lease extension, according to Otto. At the special session on Feb. 28, the council was asked to approve a lease to end on April 30, with items to be removed by May 21. The motion passed unanimously.
“The unfortunate part right now is our current zone does not permit this type of use on that property,” Otto said at the special session.
Though a new temporary lease to end on April 30 was given to XChange Recovery, the council members all expressed support in finding an alternative.
“This is really near and dear to my heart, and I am really disappointed that it has come to this,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said. “I would like to see what we can do still. I don’t want to give up on this.”
History of the lodge
The lodge, situated on the East Fork Lewis River, houses 11 women in recovery with shared rooms, multiple living rooms, a large dining room and two kitchens. In the other half of the large home, Vicky and Bill Smith, the founders of XChange Recovery, live with their family.
“This is home,” Vicky Smith told The Columbian. “We get to help people restore their lives here.”
The lodge itself sits on county land, purchased with conservation futures funds meant to restore the land for future habitat preservation and eventually develop it for public recreation, according to Otto.
In 2009, the county offered the land to Vicky and Bill Smith to use for XChange Recovery Services. The couple, with much community support, donated time and labor and put $650,000 of work into the lodge to make it livable, according to Vicky Smith. The property had sat vacant for nearly a decade prior to XChange moving in.
“This home went from death to life, just like the women here,” Vicky Smith said.
‘I just felt safe and loved’
At the Feb. 28 special session, dozens of women provided testimony about what the lodge means to them, including the power of the location itself.
Jasmine Jackson told the council how when she first came to Grace Lodge in 2021, she felt destined for death. She signed her kids over to full custody with their father and had completely given up on herself. Now, she just celebrated 15 months sober.
“Without Grace Lodge, I don’t know where I would be,” Jackson told the council.
Samantha Bailey says she began using methamphetamine at 10 years old and spent 22 years battling addiction. In November 2021, her children were taken by Child Protective Services and placed with their paternal grandparents. Bailey spent the next five months living out of her car before finding her way to Grace Lodge, where she stayed for six months.
“I just felt safe and loved and connected,” she said.
At the special session, dozens of women told two minutes’ worth of their stories to the council, and almost all echoed a sentiment of gratitude to the county for being allowed to be in this space.
“We’re very grateful to the county for partnering with us to allow us to use this home to support women,” Vicky Smith told The Columbian.
By the end of the special session, Vicky and Bill Smith were given a lease extension until the end of April to move out. If they do have to move, the family and the women in the program will resettle at Exodus House, an XChange Recovery home currently housing men in recovery. This would create a domino effect, with a need to find placement for the men living there, according to Vicky Smith.
“In fact, we need more housing, not less,” Vicky Smith told the council. “And so for us to lose the Grace Lodge, it affects our capacity to be able to serve the community.”
At the special session, the council members all expressed a desire to find a solution — potentially a way for the women to stay at Grace Lodge. Some of the council members suggested the possibility of rezoning the land to permit occupational use or grandfathering the occupational use in. Councilor Sue Marshall suggested finding a way to coexist with public trails and Grace Lodge.
The task was given to Leslie Lopez, chief civil deputy at the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, to do more research and report back to the council if either of these suggestions is a possibility.
“I would like to see really some hard legal work, in writing, on the issues that we’ve discussed today as to a way forward for this property,” Medvigy said. “… I would have liked to see this property go to you.”
For now, the future for the residents at Grace Lodge is uncertain.