Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Former Town Councilwoman Joyce Handley spoke to members of the town council Monday night regarding new tenants of a home located next to her residence on Love Street.
Handley informed members of the council that she and other residents of Love Street were concerned when they learned that a rundown home in the neighborhood is being transformed into a half-way house and is expected to house up to six male occupants.
“The house is extremely rundown and has been for years,” said Handley. “I don’t see how it can be safe for six men and a supervisor to live there. It is a small one bedroom, one and a half bath house.”
Handley said that the neighborhood wasn’t notified of the half-way house, which she stated will serve as a sober living facility. Handley sought out information about the facility due to the proximity to her home.
Franklin Town Manager Summer Woodard noted that the town was made aware of the facility, and after reviewing the town’s zoning ordinances, the facility isn’t violating any rules or regulations by operating near Love Street.
John Henning Jr., Franklin’s legal counsel, said that as long as the facility isn’t providing medical care, a half-way house isn’t regulated by any state agency.
Handley and the more than a dozen residents attending the meeting who shared her concerns said the lack of oversight and transparency for something operating in their community was part of the concern.
“I am concerned about the safety of the men who will be living there. That house can not be in any state to have residents,” said Handley. “I am also worried because we don’t know what type of people will be living there. I am sure they all have some sort of felony. Are they sex offenders? We don’t know.”
Henning Jr. said the house meets minimal housing standards set forth by the town and is in compliance with everything else.
Councilwoman Dinah Mashburn noted that she thinks houses such as the one Handley is describing is the reality of the recovery community and have been popping up in communities all over the state.
“These sober living homes are something that can happen, I can go and open an Oxford house tomorrow,” she said. These places are something in the recovery community that are just going to happen.”
Sober living facilities, also known as Oxford Houses, are a concept in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, according to OxfordHouse.org. “In its simplest form, an Oxford House describes a democratically run, self-supporting and drug free home.” The number of residents in a House may range from six to 15; with houses for men, houses for women, and houses which accept women with children. Each house represents an effective and low cost method of preventing relapse. This was the purpose of the first Oxford House established in 1975, and continues to be in each of more than 2,000 houses in the United States today.
With nothing to prohibit its operation as it stands, the town said they will continue to monitor the home. On Tuesday night, three men from House of Hope Church of God attended the Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting to inform the board of their sober living home ministry located near Love Street.
Gregory Bartram serves as the pastor of the church and Paul Manyard, who also addressed commissioners, heads up the church’s Freedom House Ministry.
Manyard said he wasn’t aware of any complaints or issues with neighbors and explained to commissioners that the church has gone above and beyond to ensure all rules and regulations are met to be able to provide a safe, sober environment for the men who reside there. Five men currently live in the home.
“We provide a place for people who are serious about recovery and getting sober. We provide them with freedom from their addiction,” he said. “All too often people go to jail, or rehab, and get straightened out, but when they get out, they have no where to go but back to the trap house. So we started this outreach to give them a place to come home to and a chance to regain their freedom.”
Manyard said the program is very strict and includes ongoing drug testing, money management classes, and other requirements. If individuals are not seen as serious and dedicated to the getting sober, Manyard said they are not allowed to stay.
The Freedom House, which currently only serves men, is the first step in what Manyard said the church hopes will become a larger program to include a home for women and a home for families.