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Addiction recovery house proposal sparks discussion, controversy

By Susan Mustapich | Dec 17, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich At the Dec. 15 open house at 63 Washington St., from left, Dr. Ira Mandel, Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition executive director, Sixty-Three Washington St. board members Kathleen Bachus and Betty Ingraham, and MCRC board member John Jeffers, welcomed community members, provided information, and conducted tours of the home.

CAMDEN — A plan to locate a transitional home for women recovering from addiction at 63 Washington St., a former group home for the elderly, is drawing public support and neighbors' objections.

Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition is under contract to purchase 63 Washington St. from the nonprofit organization that owns the property, according to MCRC Executive Director Dr. Ira Mandel. The building would fulfill an unmet need in the community to serve women in recovery and their children, he said. The nonprofit owner is named Sixty-Three Washington Street.

However, MCRC's ability to purchase the property may be in jeopardy, because the closing date was bumped up from March 30 to Jan. 2, giving the nonprofit just over two weeks to raise the funds needed. The first week in December, Sixty-Three Washington St. received a backup offer from another potential buyer, and by agreement, has informed MCRC that it has 30 days to close on the property.

Mandel has held discussions about the proposal at local churches, including the First Congregational Church, once an owner of the facility, and Chestnut Street Baptist Church. On Dec. 12, Mandel met with residents who live in the area surrounding 63 Washington St., at the suggestion of Camden's Planning, Development and Code Office. He said he heard strong opposition from neighbors, including concerns that the recovery home will draw to the neighborhood drug dealing, crime, violence, traffic and noise, and will reduce the value of surrounding properties.

He has invited neighbors to another meeting Dec. 20 at 6 p.m., to hear all of the concerns and come up with a plan to address them. The meeting takes place at the First Congregational Church and is open to community members.

At a Dec. 15 open house, board members of both Sixty-Three Washington St. and MCRC were present. Several community members attending said they see the need in Camden for the women's recovery home. Sixty-Three Washington St. board members Kathleen Bachus and Betty Ingraham both expressed their personal support for MCRC's proposal. Bachus said she “would love to see a tradition of caring continue in the building.” Ingraham would “like to see services continue for vulnerable women. There's such a need for this in the area,” she said.

Mandel sees the location as ideal for a recovery home for women and their children. It is located in a safe and pleasant neighborhood, with a large yard and garden, within walking distance to town, and there is support in the community for such a facility, he said.

Supportive housing and wraparound services at the women's recovery house will be provided, including safe housing, supervision, case management, parenting and life skills training, and access to child care, transportation, medical and behavioral health care and employment assistance, according to Mandel. These services can help those working on relationships, paying off fines and seeking a driver's license, he said.

The group house provides the support and community needed in the recovery process, according to Mandel. The house would be governed by a set of rules. The most important criterion is that a person is highly motivated to enter recovery. Each resident is expected to work on a plan that is monitored by staff on site. The women who live there will no longer be using drugs, he said. However, a lapse, which can happen during the recovery process, would not necessarily be a reason to require a person to leave, he added. The typical length of stay would be about six months.

"The opposite of addiction is connection," he said. "A group home gives you that. You're in there with other people who are working together. The opposite is a broken home, and people who isolate."

MCRC recently entered into a contract to purchase the property from the owners, Sixty-Three Washington Street. The contract involves the transfer of the property from the nonprofit to MCRC at a purchase price of approximately $180,000, which equals the nonprofit's remaining debt and outstanding expenses.

The sale was originally set for March 30, 2019, Mandel said, but the date has been accelerated to Jan. 2. Mandel explained that the contract allowed the owners to continue to accept offers from other potential buyers, with the agreement that if they accepted a second offer, MCRC would be notified and given the option to purchase the property within 30 days. The board received a second offer, and MCRC has agreed to the Jan. 2 closing date.

Mandel is sympathetic to the situation of the nonprofit organization. After the last resident there died, the group home closed because it could not compete with other assisted living facilities. The property no longer produces income, and the nonprofit has to pay off its debt.

This January closing has also accelerated MCRC's fundraising to raise the agreed-on purchase price. While time is short, fundraising is currently on track, according to Mandel, with about $40,000 promised to date. MCRC is also looking at obtaining loans. Conditions are favorable for MCRC to obtain a loan, Mandel said, based on the organization's equity. It currently owns 22 Brewster St. in Rockland debt-free, where a group recovery home for men is planned. In addition, the contracted purchase price for 63 Washington St. is a third of its assessed value for property tax purposes, which is $532,000, according to town of Camden records.

If MCRC obtains a loan to buy 63 Washington St., it will continue fundraising to pay off the loan, Mandel said.

It will take six months to open the women's recovery home, Mandel said, which will provide additional time to work with the community. Like the Brewster Street recovery home for men, he envisions that the women's recovery home will have a community advisory committee, will host open houses to invite the community in for discussion, sharing and food, and will seek volunteer help from community members.

The town of Camden has not yet received a completed Change of Use application from MCRC, according to Jeanne Hollingsworth, assistant at the Planning, Development and Code office.

The property is currently zoned by the town of Camden for use as a group home or boarding house for the elderly, limited to nine occupants, a use that was granted as a special exception by the Zoning Board of Appeals in 1983.

On the application MCRC is asked to describe the proposed use of the property and the services that will be provided, according to Jeremy Martin, director of the Planning, Development and Code Office.

63 Washington Street was organized in 1886 as a Home for Aged Women. According to its bylaws, its intent was to be a charitable organization and home for indigent American women. The First Congregational Church purchased the home in the 1980s, for both men and women. In recent years, the home was independently owned and managed by the Board of Directors,and operated as a licensed Level 3 Assisted Living home for seniors over 60.

Sixty-three Washington St. closed its doors in January, after serving the community for nearly 120 years. According to a press release, the emphasis on seniors aging at home, combined with the area’s other larger assisted living facilities with large, diversified staff better equipped to absorb the numerous regulations and codes, led to the difficult decision to close.

63 Washington St. served as home for the elderly from 1886 until Jan. 2018, and is now under contract to be sold to the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition for a proposed transitional home for women recovering from addiction, and their children. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
A group of Camden Hills Regional High School choral singers, led by Kim Murphy, third from right, entertains with carols at the Dec. 15 open house at 63 Washington St. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
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Comments (1)
Posted by: Valerie Wass | Dec 18, 2018 08:08

People need to get involved and check out these recovery houses BEFORE ASSUMING that they are bad and will draw a wrong crowd.

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