Nonprofit that runs suddenly shuttered substance abuse facility got nearly $500K from city in last 3 months

River Region Human Services, which suddenly closed a long-standing residential substance abuse facility in December, has received close to half a million dollars from the city of Jacksonville over the past three months.

But according to an email obtained by the I-TEAM, River Region employees were still waiting for last week’s paychecks as of Thursday morning.

River Region Human Services helps people with substance abuse, housing, and more, and in recent weeks, the local nonprofit has been accused of stiffing vendors and employees, despite receiving close to a million dollars in local and state funds in recent months.

MORE: Current, former employees of Jacksonville substance abuse facility say mismanagement led up to abrupt closure, CEO exit

Michelle deSaussure, who owns Ardens Katering with her wife, said she is also waiting to be paid by River Region.

“The total is $18,000 and some change. It’s a lot of money. And we’re very a small business,” she said. “We can’t just not recoup that type of money. You know, the food costs are outrageous.”

She said they fed clients in recovery at River Region Human Services’ residential Derya Williams Campus for seven years.

“Seven days a week, 365 days a year,” she said.

But for deSaussure, it’s more than just business because she and her wife met and got sober at the River Region-operated Matrix House Treatment Program more than 20 years ago. They had the option to go there for treatment or go jail. They now have property, animals, a business, and a good life.

“What a blessing. And it’s contributed all to River Region,” deSaussure said.

However, their business relationship with the nonprofit deteriorated last year. deSaussure said River Region struggled to pay its catering bills for about six months before ending its business relationship in October with a five-figure invoice left unpaid. Follow-up emails and calls went unanswered.

She said losing the contract means missing out on about $200,000 a year.

RELATED: Former board member of addiction treatment center said he heard complaints of issues before facility suddenly shut down

Then, the residential substance abuse campus they served closed in December.

“It’s a lot to us, but you got to think about the clients,” she said. “You know, where are they? That’s my biggest thing.”

In response to an open records request from the I-TEAM, the City of Jacksonville revealed it paid about $485,000 to River Region from Oct. 1 to Jan. 5 and the money was distributed among its HIV/AIDS program, its in-jail drug treatment program and its substance abuse program, which received more than $300,000.

The Social Services Division payments to River Region Human Services are as follows:

• Ryan White HIV/AIDS program:

o October 2023 – $6,750

• Substance Abuse program:

o October 2023 – $53,050.91

o November 2023 – $53,050.91

o December 2023 – $53,050.91

• In Jail Drug Treatment program:

o October 2023 – $99,927.57

o November 2023 – $105,787.96

o December 2023 – $113,593.06

City of Jacksonville Office of General Counsel

The facility was also allocated $500,000 from this year’s state budget for renovations just months before it was shut down following a fire safety inspection.

“They need to get it together and, you know, get it back on track. People need help. There are still addicts out there,” deSaussure said.

News4JAX has reached out to River Region for comment multiple times to hear its side of the story. In response to the I-TEAM’s questions Thursday, River Region’s interim CEO Anthony Casapao sent a statement, writing, “As Interim CEO, I’ve been brought in to right the River Region ship. With the application of austerity measures, I have full confidence in this agency’s ability to rebound.”

News4JAX also reached out to the city for more detail on exactly what those funds are supposed to be used.

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