Recovering addicts defend group homes

`We are not bad people,' say residents as debate heats up in Bel Air

June 09, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

The houses tucked away on Shannon Drive in Bel Air look pretty much the same.

Neatly manicured lawns, driveways and brightly painted homes line the tranquil street near downtown Bel Air. But recently proposed town legislation has touched off an emotional debate over three of the houses being used as group homes for substance abusers.

On one side, residents worry that Bel Air is becoming a magnet for group homes like the ones on Shannon Drive. They support the ordinance prohibiting such homes in neighborhoods zoned for lower density.

"I don't like them here because every three to six months the people living there change," said Rose Mumpower, who has lived on Shannon more than 40 years. "I understand that these guys have to have someplace to live, but I don't think this is the neighborhood for them."

On the other side of the debate, however, are residents of the group homes who say they're simply normal people trying to get their lives back on track.

"I understand people being upset that we are here, but at the meeting the other night someone made the comment that they are trying to `dump all the alcoholics here,' like we are bad people," said Katie, 40, who has been in recovery for five weeks. "We are not bad people. We are good people with a bad disease."

Maryland Recovery Partners Inc. runs the three group homes on Shannon Drive, along with two others for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in Bel Air. Some of the residents living in the homes, like Katie, agreed to speak with The Sun yesterday under the condition that their last names not be used.

A group of women at one of the homes on Broadway gathered yesterday in the brightly lighted kitchen to prepare a lunch of chicken and french fries. Karen, 41, recently had completed the program and returned yesterday to visit her friends.

"Before I got into recovery, I would have been one of those people protesting against a group home," said Karen, a former producer for a broadcast news station who recently settled in Bel Air not far from the group home. "But I think I am much more responsible and I make a much better neighbor now."

Maryland Recovery Partners Inc. was started in November 1997, the brainchild of two recovering addicts who worked in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Jack Lyons and Ron Hildebrand, co-directors of the company, said they recognized a need for those in recovery to live in a structured, family environment.

Lyons and Hildebrand said they receive many of their clients by way of referrals from in-patient care facilities. A minimum stay of three months is required, and while they declined to say how much they charge, they did say that fees begin at $100 a week.

"They have rules just like any family living in a house together would," said Lyons, whose firm is privately owned and receives no state funding. "These houses provide the support that people in recovery need."

People like 55-year-old Robert.

Robert, who works as a customer service representative, said he became addicted to drugs in 1984 and had been in seven treatment programs before he found help at Maryland Recovery.

"I am embarking on my fourth month of sobriety and my experience has been so positive and so filled with possibilities."

Inside the home on Shannon where Robert lives, plush couches rest near a large television and dozens of movies on videocassette. A high chair sits in the dining room for the residents' children, many of whom visit their fathers on the weekend.

Bob, a dentist and father of an 18-month-old daughter, said he struggled with alcoholism for 10 years before becoming addicted to prescription drugs and losing everything.

"I come from a good family, I went to a good school and during a five- or six-month period I was homeless, I was penniless, I lost my family and I lost my practice," said Bob, who has been in the program on Shannon Drive 11 months.

Terri Reardon lives next door to one of the group homes on Shannon Drive and said she has found the residents to be pleasant, quiet and good neighbors. The men often stop to chat with her children, she said, and she disagrees with the uproar over the homes.

"I've found them to be really decent people," Reardon said. "They have faced up to what their problems are and they are dealing with them."

But Mumpower said that while those living in the group homes appear to be nice people, she believes that her quiet community filled with many elderly residents is not the place for group homes.

The owners of Maryland Recovery say Bel Air is ideal for their business because of the availability of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the area. And the residents at the homes say Bel Air is just a nice place to live.

"People keep saying `not in my back yard'," said Erica, 19, who has lived in the group home on Broadway for three months. "But if not here, then where?"

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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