Rezoning of property would give more addicts a shot at sobriety
MOUNT VERNON — More than anything, Amy Smart would like to see Knox County give the residents of 197 Mansfield Avenue a chance.
Currently, there are 11 men living at the house who are in various stages of recovery from substance abuse addiction through programming with Riverside Recovery Services, of which Smart is the owner/executive director.
The house and its residents have become a subject of concern for neighbors, who have complained to Mount Vernon City officials. But the men in recovery at the house have been living amongst those same neighbors for years, Smart said.
“They are already here,” Smart said. “They shop with you, they are beside you at the grocery store, they are beside you at the library. They are already walking beside you in every other part of your life, so why is it not OK for them to live beside you?”
While at the house, they are learning, over a six-month period, how to live sober lives. Ten of the men are Knox County residents, and two are nearing completion of their stay.
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The house is up for a change in zoning that will allow an increase in the number of men who can live there. Under current zoning laws, that number is five; Smart is seeking a change in zoning from R-1 to R-3, that will allow for 13 to reside at the house.
The neighbor’s complaints came to the city before the zoning change was proposed, Joel Daniels, Mount Vernon safety-services director, said.
The zoning request will be heard today at 4 p.m. in a special meeting of the Mount Vernon Municipal Planning Commission at The Station Break. The meeting was scheduled after more than 100 people showed up for a Jan. 10 meeting of the MPC to hear the zoning request, causing it to be rescheduled to a larger venue.
The house was purchased by Riverside in July 2018 and opened as recovery men’s housing in August. Residents were moved in within 45 days of purchase of the home, according to Riverside’s rezoning application, and the house was “at capacity” within 30 days after that.
Smart said she has held the number of residents to 11 since filing for the change in zoning.
The occupancy question was raised by residents who noticed a lot of cars parked at the house, Daniels said. In addition to the parking complaints, Daniels said some of the concerns have been of the NIMBY variety — Not In My Back Yard. Some people appear to object for no other reason than there is a recovery house in their neighborhood, Daniels said.
A meeting was held between the city and Smart, and Riverside’s rezoning application came out of the meeting, Daniels said. The house is currently designated R-1, which restricts occupancy of a group home to five; Daniels said it is his understanding the change to R-3 would allow for occupancy “beyond five.” That would be about the extent of control the city would have over the home, Daniels said.
“We don’t govern what goes on inside the residence,” Daniels said. “The simple question that is being raised at (tomorrow’s) meeting is, should this property be rezoned from R1 to R3.”
According to Smart, residents of the recovery house spend 18 hours a week in group and meet regularly with counselors. They attend outside recovery programs, including meetings with groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The majority of the current residents are on probation, Smart said, and they have to abide by the terms of their probation, as well as the rules of the recovery house program. Before they leave the program, residents will have put together a recovery plan for life on the outside.
They also pick up the habit of living day-to-day life in sobriety. Smart said that getting into a sober living environment is one of the keys to recovery. It is too easy to relapse when a person is returned to the place where they were using, surrounded by the people and circumstances that enabled their substance abuse.
The house is staffed 24 hours a day by Riverside. There are 16 cameras installed around the inside and outside of house, which Smart said are for the safety of residents, staff and the community.
Applicants for recovery housing are screened for eligibility before being accepted into the program. There are four automatic disqualifiyers, Smart said: Sex offenders are ineligible, as is anyone with a record of arson, violent crimes or crimes against the elderly. Anyone who has prescription for medications that can be easily abused must change to approved medications before they can be accepted into the program.
Police officers have been called to the house four times between Sept. 23 and Dec. 18, according to Mount Vernon Police reports.
Two of the calls were medical in nature. A call from Oct. 31 reported an ill male subject vomiting who was initially reported as “not very responsive,” according to Mount Vernon Police reports. No charges were filed.
Dec. 18, a male subject reported to be in detox and was hallucinating, was outside swinging metal rods at people. The man was taken into custody by police and transported to Knox Community Hospital for evaluation.
Assault charges were filed in an altercation between two men at the house Sept. 23. According to MVPD reports, one of the men head-butted the other during an argument.
Sept. 29, police were at the house to serve warrants on two residents at the request of the adult parole authority. The two men were taken into custody.
The two individuals arrested on warrants were expelled from the program because they violated their parole, Smart said. The two men involved in the assault were also expelled, the man who was arrested as well as the man who was assaulted because he fought back, Smart said.
The individual hallucinating was sent to another program. Smart said he was tested prior to being admitted to the house, but used between the test and the day of admission. He began detoxing at the house, Smart said.
The sick man was experiencing seizures, Smart said.
Although the zoning change would allow for up to 16 residents, Smart said she will keep the number to 13 to keep the number of staff at a higher ratio than residents.
Smart said she will attend today’s hearing of the planning commission.