The following article appeared in Vermont Today – The Breaking News Blog of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus on October 27th:
BARRE TOWN, VT – Plans to convert a South Barre apartment building into transitional housing for residents with substance abuse issues didn’t suffer any setbacks during a weekend tour of a comparable facility in Burlington. In fact, a team of town officials and one town resident who tagged along out of curiosity said they were suitably impressed by the now year-old Phoenix House program that is located in an apartment just off Upper Church Street. Town Manager Carl Rogers, who was joined on the tour by his assistant, Shawn Bonham, Selectman Jack Mitchell, Zoning Administrator Chris Violate, Police Chief Michael Stevens and resident John Clark, said he didn’t detect any red flags during a 90-minute tour.
Rogers told Select Board members this week that the building, which currently houses 17 recovering addicts, is well-maintained and anything but an eyesore. Although it is sandwiched in between two elderly housing projects, he said there have been no issues with neighbors and there actually appears to be a positive rapport between the program’s participants and those who live nearby. Rogers said parking isn’t a problem because most of the residents don’t drive, an 11:30 p.m. curfew is strictly enforced and even televisions are turned off at that time. The facility appeared to be well-staffed and he said the building could easily be converted into a number of different uses if Phoenix House – a national program that has a successful relationship with the state Department of Corrections – ever decided to abandon it. Mitchell echoed that assessment, describing the program as “very structured” and its participants as invested in their recovery.
However, it was Clark, who attended the tour thanks to a brief case of mistaken identity, who provided the most glowing endorsement. Clark said he noticed “Phoenix House” on the board’s agenda more than a week ago and mistakenly believed the Phoenix Program – an off-campus alternative school that is run under the auspices of Spaulding High School – was looking to relocate. Clark served as chairman of the Spaulding board’s policy and curriculum committee when the program was created several years ago. It has since helped nearly 250 students, who had either dropped out or were in danger of dropping out, obtain their diplomas, he said.
Clark said he dug a little, realized the name was the same but the programs were different, but decided to tag along on the weekend tour none-the-less. He said he liked what he saw. According to Clark, the organization is well-run, the structure is time-tested, and the participants – including a former Barre resident who is now working on his college degree – seemed to be turning their lives around. “I was very impressed and I really felt that if a neighbor asked if it (Phoenix House) would affect their property values my estimation is: ‘Yes, they’ll probably go up,’” he said.
The board welcomed that report given concerns some South Barre residents have raised about a plan to create a 20-bed facility in a Route 14 apartment building. The board remains interested in crafting a memorandum of understanding that would create guidelines and expectations about how a local Phoenix House would be run.
Meanwhile, the town’s development review board is scheduled to resume its consideration of the conditional use permit application for the project when it meets November 9th. The proposed South Barre facility would be Vermont’s fifth Phoenix House. In addition to the one in Burlington, there are two in Brattleboro and one in Bellows Falls.