After pulling zoning appeals application, group will seek another location in town
By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(March 29, 2018) Hope4Recovery last week pulled its application with the Berlin Board of Zoning Appeals to establish a certified recovery house on William Street in Berlin.
Members of the board of directors on Saturday said they would not pursue developing the home, which is near Berlin Intermediate School, but would instead regroup and look for another location in town.
Hope4Recovery, according to its mission statement, “is a pending nonprofit organization dedicated in its mission to create clean, safe, sober homes for those in recovery from addiction.” The organization “is steadfast in its mission to be a resource to those looking for a sober and structured living environment during their recovery process.”
Executive Director Patrice Ottey and several board members made a presentation to the Berlin Town Council on March 12 and to the Worcester County School Board last Tuesday.
The school board presentation was made during a closed session and members of the board said they did not specifically ask for an endorsement and none was given. Members of Hope4Recovery said they were unsure why the session was closed.
Establishing the home on William Street would have required approval of the board of zoning appeals, but an application was withdrawn last Thursday.
Ottey, an Ocean Pines Police officer, said the organization was formed last fall.
The board includes President Sarah Hooper, Vice President Tracy Simpson, Secretary Dr. Robert Hooper, Treasurer Bob Thompson, Realtor Terri Bradford, attorney Kristina Watkoswki, SonRise Church Pastor Daryl McCready and Circuit Court Judge Margaret “Peggy” Kent.
“It was around September or the beginning of October when we started to get together and recruit individuals that were highly educated in this cause,” Ottey said during an interview on Saturday. “We started because all of the individuals on the board knew there was a lack of services in Worcester County related to recovery and recovery residences.”
Ottey founded a similar house, the Douglas K. Hamilton House for Recovery, in the Newton neighborhood of Salisbury last year.
She said the proposed house in Berlin would be a “level two” accredited dwelling. Level one houses are self-run and level two include a live-in house manager.
“This is an all-men’s facility. The reason for that is statistics show, unfortunately, that’s the need in this area,” Ottey said.
Ottey said all the in-patient facilities and health departments “all the way across the bay bridge” have information and paperwork for the Hamilton House.
“We get several applications a day,” she said. “The average stay is about three months, so several a day is tough. It’s hard to say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have a safe place to give you’ and I think that was one of the driving forces for me to move this ahead [in Berlin].”
Patients who enter the home must abstain from using illegal drugs and alcohol, Ottey said. Random drug screenings are performed three times per week.
Clients must attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings and additional outpatient or intensive outpatient meetings. Employment is also required within the first two weeks.
“The only time I have ever seen an individual in my house not get a job is because they didn’t want to get a job,” Ottey said. “This home is self-sustaining and has to be – there’s no government funding. They have to pay rent … and they live as a family.
“They also have to perform chores in their house,” she continued. “These guys will pick up after each other and say, ‘listen, these people did this for us and we have to take care of it – and they do.’”
Family meals are held once each week and progress reports are discussed with the house manager.
“We have an open-door policy at the Salisbury house, which we’ll have down here. Any moment of the day, the health department or probation officer or anybody can call and say, ‘I would like to come either verify they live there or see this place,’” Ottey said. “[The residents] know the house always needs to be presentable.”
Ottey said her approach was very hands on.
“I’m off three days a week and I’m there four,” she said. “I take my kids up there, so we’ll have family meals with them as well.”
She added her children attend Berlin Intermediate School, adjacent to the site originally proposed.
“My kids, because of the Salisbury house and because of our experience, they see these guys are really strong guys – they’re really working hard,” Ottey said. “They think highly of them.”
The model for the home was developed after Ottey “went around and talked to anybody and everybody who would talk to me, that owned a recovery residence.”
“I picked what I thought would work and then I bounced it off the smartest people I know,” she said. “And from there, I feel like we with came up with … really good base model.”
Dr. Robert Hooper said he and several other board members had careers specializing in addiction treatment and recovery.
“We’ve seen it work and there is some good research out there that people are not very familiar with, that if you have a continuum of care, then the people that are serious about getting themselves detoxed, starting to capture back what I refer to as ‘the high-jacked brain’ … we can get them to deal with their issue.
“The stigma factor that we deal with for anybody that is seeking mental health, and God forbid if that includes addictions – it is huge. And the reality of it is, every family in America can tell you about somebody who is in a pretty close circle to their family who has dealt with this,” Hooper added. “But we don’t talk about that. And that is the big challenge here.”
He said the spread of fentanyl, nationally and locally, has only compounded the problem.
“This thing that’s a wonderful drug for major surgery – but that’s it – is killing people left and right,” Hooper said. “We’re trying to fight through that and be part of the solution in what has claimed to become a 21st century community [of Berlin]. We’re trying to prevent and be a part of the solution.”
Additionally, Hooper said the state of the Hamilton House, a thoroughly renovated home built during the early 1900s, means a lot to patients staying there.
“The house says you’re worth something, because it’s not flea-bitten. It’s a beautiful home,” he said. “The goal is to do the same thing in [Berlin]. That’s just a little nuance in conveying the message that you are worthwhile, despite some decisions you’ve made. Lots of people don’t get that.”
Simpson, the drug court coordinator for Worcester County, said Berlin is an ideal location because of its proximity to nearby services, from Atlantic General Hospital and the Worcester County Health Department, to grocery stores and Shore Transit.
“People need to be able to get to their health care providers. They need to be able to get to their treatment providers. They need to be able to have access to public transportation. They need to have access to employment,” she said. “They need to have access to all the services they need to maintain their recovery.
“To be located in such a wonderful town that has immediate access to all of those things builds on their recovery, because removing them from the access is what stammers progress,” Simpson continued. “If you have the people who are active in their recovery near all the things that they need to maintain their sobriety, it’s that much of a greater chance they’ll be successful.”
Members of the Berlin Town Council, earlier this month, strongly suggested Hope4Recovery talk to neighbors near the proposed site on 602 William Street.
Ottey said a community meeting was held on March 19 and formal notice was mailed to residents. Just one person showed up, she said.
After purchasing the home in Salisbury, Ottey said she had several meetings with residents and city officials there that were well attended.
“They have been wonderful ever since,” she said. “I might talk to those neighbors more than I talk to my own sometimes. They’re just a group of professional people and they’re very accepting.”
She said an educational presentation would be made during the monthly Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction meeting on March 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Stephen Decatur High School, and the group would have a table at the Worcester Cares event on April 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the multipurpose building on Flower Street in Berlin.
Ottey said community feedback led to the decision to not pursue a certified recovery house on 602 William Street.
“We heard the community. We heard their concerns and I think the board decided that we want the community to be a part of this – not against it,” she said. “We also don’t want the residents to be uncomfortable. They’re already in a situation that they’re coming into a recovery home – nobody wants to be not liked. That doesn’t necessary help in recovery. We want them to feel at home.
“With those two things combined, we’re just actively looking for the perfect spot,” Ottey added.
For more information or to contact Hope4Recovery, email email@example.com.