September 19, 2010

Neighbors worry about possible house for addicts

JEFFERSON -- Bill and Marian Barker never had a problem living within 1,000 feet of a residential home for adolescent boys.

But a residential home for recovering alcoholics? That has the Barkers and their neighbors worried.

The state eliminated funding for the teen program last February, and the rambling building on North Mountain Road -- across the street from the Barkers -- has been empty ever since.

Joyce Steel, substance abuse prevention coordinator for Healthy Lincoln County and Youth Promise, said her group wants to rent the building known as the Curtis House and open a new facility for recovering alcoholics.

"We never had an issue with the teens," Bill Barker said. "They would walk up and down the street and were students at our school. A couple stayed with them all the time.

"I don't know if there's going to be a problem with this," he said. "We need more information."

Steel said the Midcoast counties of Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc are in desperate need of a facility where recovering addicts can live while they get their lives back together.

But she said some neighbors believe the rural community is not the right place for such a facility.

Barker said neighbors plan to meet to craft a list of questions to bring to a meeting with Steel next week. No date is set for the meeting with Youth Promise.

Marian Barker said Jefferson is the "quintessential Maine village." It's a country setting, with tree-lined roads and old farmhouses. Much of the land on her road has been set aside as wildlife refuges with trails.

"There will never be a lot of development along this road," Marian Barker said. "Our hope is to continue to live in a rural community and not have to lock our doors, which we assume we might have to but don't really know. It's hard to have an opinion about this when you don't know anything."

Barker said neighbors also are worried about their property values.

"That's an issue for me," she said. "If we were thinking about selling this house, would it deter people?"

Youth Promise -- formed in 1994 to develop resources for Lincoln County youths coming into the juvenile justice system -- plans to have eight men recovering from alcohol or drug addiction living in the residential home, including a manager.

Steel said the men would all be required to have jobs, pay rent, be in a treatment program and stay sober.

"(The neighbors) were perceiving that these people would be up in Jefferson, and they would be alcoholics and addicts coming out of prison," she said. "There is the possibility of a couple of beds set aside (for prisoners) when they're released, but there will be heavy screening."

Steel said neighbors also believe residents expelled from the home would become the responsibility of the town.

"They're worried that if they're locked out, they would be running around Jefferson and left to their own devices," she said. "None of that, of course, will happen. If they are expelled for any reason, we are not going to be dumping them out on the street. There will be a protocol in place for that. If they were expelled for any reason, they would be taken to the hospital."

Bobby Whear, director of the Lincoln County chapter of Communities Against Substance Abuse, said the program would be a jump start for the men's recovery.

"People who come into this kind of situation, their chance of recovery is much higher than if they just go back home," Whear said.

Lincoln County commissioners approved the project in July, but there is no funding available.

Steel said startup costs are just under $40,000.

"That funding would get the doors open," she said. "Once it's free standing, we don't foresee a problem getting people in there. We already have calls from people interested."

Steel said her group is accepting donations. They can be mailed to Youth Promise, P.O. Box 721, U.S. Rt. 1, Newcastle, ME 04553.

For more information about the program, Steel said to call her or Mary Trescot at Youth Promise at 563-6123; or Whear at 441-2313.

"Everybody needs help and has the right to be in a (recovery) program," Bill Barker said. "I just don't know if Jefferson is the right location for it."

Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408

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