Recovery house a contentious topic

Published 12:45 am Sunday, July 10, 2016

CHESAPEAKE — A men’s home by Riverside Recovery Services, which opened recently, remains a source of controversy at Chesapeake village council meetings.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Mayor Tommy Templeton again raised the issue, stating that he had seen numerous vehicles parked on Riverside Drive, which he said were attributed to the house’s operation.

The home, located at 421 Riverside Drive, opened on June 22 and serves as a sober living home for those recovering from addiction issues.

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Templeton took issue with what he said was a failure to live up to a point that Riverside’s director, Amy Smart, made in a presentation to the village council at an April meeting.

“She stood right here and told us that we wouldn’t know they were there,” he said, pointing out that Smart said those working at the house would park at the group’s Second Avenue location and walk over.

Templeton said this has not been the case, and said that he had counted 12-15 cars on the street, not belonging to residents, which he attributed to the home.

He also took issue with the home now being billed as a sober living home, rather than as the residential treatment home it was originally proposed as.

Templeton said he felt Smart’s presentation to the council was not an accurate depiction of how the home would operate.

“Everything she told us was a lie,” he said. “And we knew it at the time.”

Others present at the council meeting raised questions as to whether the home would be forced to accept violent offenders or whether opioids and synthetic opioids would be used, now that it was listed as a sober living home.

Smart, in an interview with The Tribune on Wednesday, responded the issues raised at the council meeting.

She said the only thing that had changed since the presentation was the classification to a sober living home. She said opioids and synthetic opioids were still not being used.

Kathy Ross, the site manager and intake coordinator for Riverside, said the main difference in the two classifications is that a residential treatment home would deal with court-ordered individuals, while a sober living home would not.

“Also, it takes the edge off the name,” she said.

She said that the home has a rigorous screening program in place and will not accept violent or sexual offenders.

“We would refer them to another service,” Ross said. “These are low level offenders here.”

Smart adamantly denied Templeton’s claim regarding parking on the street.

“I don’t even have 15 people on my staff,” she said.

She said none of the residents at the home have vehicles and that some staff had been having others drop them off at the home. She said that some of the vehicles on the street might have been due to a summer lunch program at the nearby United Methodist Church and from a family that was in the process of moving.

“And you can’t even fit 15 cars on that street,” she said.

In an interview on Thursday, Templeton said he had checked with the pastor of the church and that the vehicles were not due to the lunch program. He said the parking was not being caused by local residents.

“I know everyone on that street,” he said.

He said the situation had improved this week, and stated he had only seen six to seven vehicles. While he said the parking on a public street was not illegal, he maintained his view that the home was not operating as stated at the council meeting.

Chesapeake fire chief Ed Webb visited the home on Wednesday and said he found it well organized and prepared.

“They had multiple fire alarms in all bedrooms, in the hall and the kitchen,” he said. “They had fire extinguishers in each bedroom, in the main hall and in the kitchen. In a three-ring binder, they had listing of fire drills and dates and time when the fire alarms were tested.”

He said the home was in the process of attaching fire escapes to the bedroom windows and that he was “extremely satisfied” with their preparedness.

“They were very structured and very organized, “ he said. “For a business with such a small amount of people to execute fire drills, that’s great.”

Smart and Ross gave The Tribune a tour of the home on Wednesday, which she said would still be operating as a treatment center under the sober living classification.’

“Clients are still getting the required hours of treatment and doing 30-plus hours of group a week,” she said.

The home consists of five bedrooms, with two downstairs and three upstairs, to house 10 people. Two staff members would be present on site at an office, Smart said.

In addition, the home features a kitchen, dining area and a living room for group therapy to take place.

Smart and Ross said that residents would stay about four to six months, would be supervised at all times and would not be permitted to leave without staff until they meet certain goals within the program. To cut down on foot traffic, the policy will be updated so that those leaving the home will be accompanied by a staff member for carpooling to part-time work sites and other destinations.

Ross and Smart, who are both former addicts, said they want the home to be part of the Chesapeake community.

Ross, a Chesapeake native, was particularly set on the location.

“I thought it was amazing to be able to come to my backyard and do this,” she said. “We’ve had so many deaths in Chesapeake from overdoses. It’s time to do something different.”

Smart said Riverside is working with local businesses, who she said have shown an interest in offering part-time employment to residents at the home.

The home has been a contentious subject at council meetings in the past and was a factor in the council’s approval of ordinance in May, establishing a permit and fee system for new businesses.

Smart had questioned whether the declaration of quiet zones on Riverside Drive and Second Avenue were in response to the home.

Templeton said this was not the case, and named several seniors living on each street with health issues and said the zones were the fulfillment of a campaign promise he made to them last year.

“Those streets have the biggest concentration of 80-95-year-old people in the area,” Templeton said, noting that he had authority to make the designation due to a 1982 ordinance. He said signs have been made and would be installed shortly.

Council member Paul Hart summarized the objections of many present at the meeting.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he said of the home. “But for a lot of people, it’s a NIMBY deal – Not In My BackYard.”

Templeton said he was not against the idea of a treatment home, but that the location of the home on a residential street in the village was the main source of contention.

“A lot of people think I’m being mean about this,” he said. “I’m not opposed to the idea.”

Hart asked Templeton where he thought would be a better location.

“Someplace out in the open,” Templeton said.

Smart invited the public to contact Riverside’s South Point offices if they have any questions regarding the home’s operation. She said she has invited Templeton to visit the home.

The mayor said he would be making an effort to contact the group.

“I’ll be giving them a call soon,” he said.