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Demolishing house won't HALT recovery programs
First Baptist buys another site to house 12-step groups
This house, which currently is being renovated, will be the new HALT house. It is behind the old site of the HALT house, which will be torn down. - photo by Tom Reed

For nearly 30 years, more than a thousand men and women have come through the doors of the old brick house that neighbors Gainesville’s First Baptist Church, hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

All struggled with their own issues of addiction, and what was commonly known as the "HALT" house — Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, the feelings an addict strives to avoid — grew to become an institution important to just as many as the big, white-columned church on Green Street.

Within the next few months, the 1920s-era home, property of First Baptist since the late 1970s, will be torn down to make way for more church parking.

The church board, which leases the house to members of the club’s 12-step programs for $1 a year, acquired a property behind it that will serve as the new HALT house following extensive remodeling.

"It was an overwhelming vote that this ministry is so important to us that by no means did we want to move it off campus," First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Bill Coates said.

Coates said the church looked at the feasibility of renovating the house, but said it was in such disrepair from years of near-constant use that to bring it up to current public building codes would have been cost-prohibitive.

Instead, the church negotiated for a house sitting on a parcel of land behind the HALT house for what one longtime church member said was a substantial sum.

That church member, who also helped found Gainesville’s HALT club, said First Baptist acquired the old house in the late 1970s with a long-term plan toward expansion of church property.

"The original plans were that it would be for parking," said the church member, who is not being named because of his anonymous status as a 12-step recovery participant.

But when the need was presented for a meeting space with ample space and parking for addicts, the HALT club found a benefactor and a home in the early 1980s.

"It was very important to our church that people going into recovery or attempting to regain some sobriety would have some place to meet," the church member said.

The HALT house has been a meeting place for recovering addicts from not just Gainesville, but across the Northeast Georgia region. Groups hold meetings from early in the morning on some days to midnight on others — as many as six a day.

After the new house was acquired, extensive work was needed to bring it up to code and make it more of a meeting place than a home. Almost all of the work has been done by HALT members, including those with expertise in electrical, heating and air, plumbing and dry wall work.

"It’s amazing what they’re doing to this house," Coates said.

That included tearing down six interior walls, taking down a deck, making entrances handicapped-accessible and constructing a brick retaining wall. In the end, the work will add "immensely" to the usable space of the house, said a HALT club member who is overseeing the renovation efforts.

"We will have more usable square feet here than in the old house," where the space is divided among many rooms, the volunteer foreman said.

He said the porch of the old house grew so unstable from termite infestation and dry rot that "it had to be torn down before it fell down."

He said HALT club members knew the day would come when they would have to move.

"They had been planning to do this when I came here six years ago," he said. "Every six months it was going to happen. It’s finally come to pass."

But he emphasized that the club was not being forced out. The old house won’t be demolished until the club is comfortably established in its new home.

"The church has always been supportive," he said. "We’ve been planning on this for years. There’s never been any problem of being kicked out and put out on the street."

The longtime church member and HALT founder said the significant purchase made by the church to accommodate the club is evidence of First Baptist’s commitment to support HALT.

"Not only should First Baptist Church be proud of it, the whole Gainesville community should be proud of it," he said.

During a break in renovation work this week, the foreman reflected on what the HALT house has meant to him and other recovering addicts over the years.

"The main thing about it that gets me is the absolute miracles that happen here," he said.