FARMINGTON — Masada House's program director says the nonprofit will continue looking for properties for a men's group home, despite Farmington City Council members voting down two proposed locations over the past year.
"Farmington needs this," said Karen Chenault, the program director of Masada House, an organization that operates a transitional home in Farmington for women and is looking to open a similar one for men.
Most of the city council's members have publicity agreed with Chenault. But on Tuesday, Farmington City Council denied rezoning and a special use permit that would have allowed Masada House to open a men's home at 3815 Virden St.
The council on Jan. 14 also denied the same request for a property at 2107 Schofield Lane. Former Councilor Jason Sandel and Councilors Mary Fisher and Dan Darnell voted against it, while Councilor Gayla McCulloch, who owns nearby land, abstained from voting.
On Tuesday, Joseph Martinez, who lives near 3815 Virden St., told council he feared men at the proposed group home would shoot a trick-or-treater who answered the door on Halloween.
Serjio Borunda, owner of the Hillside Drive trailer park just north of Virden Street, said he understands there's a need for the home, but he doesn't want it in his neighborhood.
"These people need to learn to strive in their own environment," he said on Tuesday night after the council meeting.
Ultimately, after hearing from residents that the home would increase violence and crime in their neighborhood, Councilors Nate Duckett and McCulloch struck down Masada House's petition. Darnell and Fisher voted in favor of the petition, and Mayor Tommy Roberts did not vote.
Because more than 20 percent of the Virden Street neighborhood opposed the group home, a super-majority was needed and at least four councilors would have had to support the petition for it to pass.
"I'm surprised," Chenault said last week after the vote. "I'm very, very surprised."
Chenault said on Thursday the nonprofit hasn't secured a new property.
'You learn a different way to deal'
Without a men's group home to go to, Jim Phelps, 50, and Nathan Yesslith, 29, said it feels like they are falling. Both men, who will soon leave Four Winds Recovery Center, said they are recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.
Both also said they have relapsed in the past. Without a group home or peers to support his recovery in the past, Phelps said his addition "didn't change."
"I'd go to it," he said, of a group home. "I'd definitely go to it. I don't even want to leave here."
A group home is essential to recovery, Yesslith said. It provides supervision with fewer restrictions, it is in a neighborhood with a community and it gives the recovering addict a circle of peers, he said.
It is like training wheels, Yesslith said.
"You learn a different way to deal," Phelps said.
The home Masada House wants to establish would be the only group home for men recovering from alcohol and drug addiction in the city.
Farmington Police Chief Steven Hebbe attended the council meeting on Tuesday, and he said the concerns opponents raised — namely that the group home would introduce violence into the neighborhood — is common.
Male offenders are generally more violent than females, he said. The screening process for men entering the home would have to be conducted carefully, he said.
"You're really going to have to carefully screen to ensure you don't see a spike (in violence)," he said.
Chenault said Masada House carefully screens its clients. Staff perform a full background check and bar any violent offenders or pedophiles.
Paul Molloy is the CEO of Oxford House, a nonprofit based in Silver Spring, Md., that runs 1,724 group homes throughout the country for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. In a phone interview on Thursday, he said there's no evidence to support the idea that group homes increase crime.
"Recovering drunks and druggies are good neighbors," Molloy said.
Those individuals, he said, are focused on recovery, not on drugs and alcohol, and can benefit a community.
Of the 1.6 million people nationwide who entered treatment for alcohol and drug addiction in 2011, less than 10 percent were arrested 30 or fewer days before entering treatment, according to Behavioral Health Services Information System statistics.
Finding the right neighborhood
Duckett said his vote against the men's group home moving into the neighborhood on Virden Street was based on opposition from neighbors.
Residents complained the men would drive down property values or bother neighbors, he said.
"You need a better environment for them," Duckett said.
Finding the perfect home is not likely, but finding the right neighborhood — where residents don't oppose the group home — is possible, Duckett said.
"You got to find the right neighborhood," he said.
Several councilors mentioned both of the proposed properties had previously housed group homes — the one on Schofield Lane sheltered battered women and the house on Virden Street operated as a group home for troubled teens —and some neighbors did not want that to happened again.
McCulloch referenced that and said residents around both neighborhoods did not want a men's transitional home.
"And in my mind, that says it all," she said.
Roberts said Chenault made a "compelling case for approval" of the men's group home. He said he also believes Masada House met the rezoning threshold for the Virden Street property.
"I think the worse fears expected by people in these situations rarely materialize, and that's based on 12 years of experience dealing with these situations," Roberts said of the concerns neighbors have raised.
Darnell and Fisher supported the petition for the home on Virden Street, they said, because it was amended to include a conditional clause for the zoning. The amendment, which Darnell introduced, would revoke the rezoning if the group home's conditions were violated.
"I really support what Masada House is trying to do," Darnell said, adding he has seen the success of the organization's female clients, who live at a women's group home at 610 N. Dustin Ave. "We need it in the community."
Fisher said the Virden Street property was more suitable than the Schofield Lane location. She said the city "desperately" needs a group home but few want it in their neighborhood.
"It's pretty simple," she said. "It does not have to be this ordeal."
Writing the next chapter
Phelps, the recovering addict, said drugs and alcohol are always lurking in his mind. A group home would expose him gradually to society and its hard realities, he said.
Yesslith admitted he relapsed after a 90-day program because it was unstructured, he said.
He described his relapse like the beginning of a book. Then he entered treatment at Four Winds Recovery Center and his book progressed positively, he said.
Phelps chimed in that the conclusion of his book would start with a transition to a group home.
Yesslith added that being part of a group home would help him start a new chapter in his life.
"It would open a new book," Yesslith said. "Recovery, one that you could write yourself."