ST. GEORGE – On Thursday, a group of residents from the St. George suburb of Bloomington gathered at Bloomington Elementary to listen to a series of presentations about how to keep a planned residential drug and alcohol treatment home out of their neighborhood.
Over 150 residents sat in the gymnasium of the school as local residents Warren Church, Patrick Abernathy, and others spoke about what impact they believed the recovery home would have on the community, and laid out a plan to put pressure on city officials to refuse zoning permits for the facility.
The plans for the recovery home involve renovating a large estate on Sugar Leo Road. This will be the second such facility owned and managed by Steps Recovery in the state of Utah; the other is situated in a residential neighborhood in Payson.
In the meeting, many of the Bloomington residents, both audience-members as well as presenters, had perceptions of the planned recovery home, which in many ways did not correlate with what the developers of the facility have described to Saint George News and to city officials.
“It’s been proven in many several incidents, when you have drug people there, the dealers go with the drug people,” resident Bob Cheek said. “I don’t care if they are in a center or not, because they have the freedom to come and go.”
Mike Jorgensen, one of the partners behind the planned recovery center, said it isn’t true that residents will be free to come and go as they please. Jorgensen also asked what is meant by terms like “drug people.”
“Those people are your neighbors, they’re your kids, they are in your churches,” he said. “The people you have to worry about are the ones who aren’t in recovery and not under 24/7 supervision,” he said.
Jorgensen also said he rejects the idea that the planned recovery home will increase crime. The facility, as it is planned, will involve around-the-clock supervision, and residents will be subject to frequent drug testing to ensure they are clean and sober while living in the treatment home.
“They are not going to be allowed to leave the campus without supervision,” Jorgensen said.
The planned recovery home will not be a lock-down facility, however. If residents wish to end treatment, they are free to leave; however, they will not be allowed to simply walk out the door. Jorgensen said that when residents choose to leave, they are generally picked up by family, or else the facility will arrange transportation for them.
“They aren’t going to just walk out the door and wander the streets looking for people to rob,” said Jorgensen, “that’s ridiculous.”
Another common misconception at the meeting was that some patients at the planned recovery home will be there involuntarily.
“Some of their customers may be court-ordered,” Patrick Abernathy told the audience during the presentation, “meaning they have willfully broken the law and are being placed in this facility in lieu of prison.”
However, City Councilman Jon Pike said that, although there has not yet been a formal application to the city, his understanding of the plans for the recovery home is that there will not be any court-ordered patients. Pike said that the legality of such a residential facility opening in the Bloomington neighborhood is largely a question of what is perceived and of what is real.
Pike said that some of the very real concerns that the council will be looking at are whether the recovery home will be in compliance with zoning regulations, and concerns such as what sort of impact it will have on traffic patterns. “They are taking a house in an all-residential neighborhood,” he said. How much traffic – in terms of food, laundry, and housekeeping services – will be generated by having up to 24 people living in a single residence is a concern, Pike said.
There are many questions and many contradictory perceptions about the impact that a large recovery home will have upon the Bloomington community. Many audience members cited dropping property value as their primary worry. While it’s true that drug and alcohol recovery facilities do tend to lower property values in residential areas, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act stipulate that municipalities cannot reject applications for this reason.
Nobody at Thursday’s meeting, when asked, denied that a growing drug-addiction problem exists in Southern Utah. Warren Church, one of the organizers of the meeting, agreed that there probably is a need for more treatment facilities in Southern Utah; however, he said that he doesn’t think they should be in residential neighborhoods.
Undergoing recovery in a familiar setting can be tremendously helpful for patients, Jorgensen said. And he said he rejects the notion that recovering addicts are inherently criminals and should not be allowed to undergo recovery in a comfortable residential treatment facility. Jorgensen said he understands why people might not want to live near a recovery home. “Nobody wants to live near a school,” said Jorgensen, “nobody wants to live near a church, nobody wants to live near a fire-station, but these buildings provide needed services to communities.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.