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August 4, 2017

Proposal would house addicts in vacant church

Photos/Don Del Rosso
Organizers hope to convert the former Warrenton Assembly of God building at 276 E. Shirley Ave. into a home for recovering addicts.
Cheryl and Bobby Hawkins, who live nearby on Cleveland Street, support the proposal.
You’re going to either do something about the heroin epidemic and say, ‘We’ve got a problem; this is a solution.’ Or, you close your eyes and wait until it’s your own kids that you read about in the paper in the obituaries, or you get the call in the night.
— Chaplain Wally Smith
Oxford House Proposal
• What: 16-bedroom “home,” serving men recovering from drug addiction and/or alcoholism.

• Where:  Vacant, former Warrenton Assembly of God church, 276 E. Shirley Ave., Warrenton.

• Owner: Assemblies of God Inc. of the Potomac District Council.

• Zoning: Residential.

• Who: Fauquier residents Wally and Pat Smith, The Bridge Community Church Pastor Greg Hackett and other community members.

• Details: Based in Silver Spring, Md., Oxford House provides support for “democratically run, self-supporting and drug-free” homes for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Under the nonprofit’s model, residents govern the house, determining who may reside there, enforcing rules and collecting rent. Strictly a residential program, Oxford House provides no rehabilitation, counseling or job training services.

• Next: Mr. Smith believes the property’s residential zoning allows the proposed use by-right. Because the town staff has received no details about the project, it remains unclear whether the proposed use may require special use permit and/or rezoning approval by the town council. No decision has been made yet to seek town staff interpretation about required municipal approvals, Mr. Smith said.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
A local couple and pastor want help convert a vacant Warrenton church along East Shirley Avenue into a home for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics.

Immediately north of Taylor Middle School, the former Warrenton Assembly of God building would house up to 16 men, according to Wally Smith, a volunteer chaplain who serves Fauquier Hospital and the Warrenton Police Department.

“I would say the majority of them would be recovering from drug addictions,” Mr. Smith said.

He, his wife Pat and Greg Hackett, pastor of The Bridge Community Church just south of Warrenton, began work on the project about nine months ago, Mr. Smith said.

The Smiths and others have met with Warrenton officials, including Town Manager Brannon Godfrey and Community Development Director Brandie Schaeffer, to discuss the proposal.

The eight-tenth of an acre church property has residential zoning. Citing the federal Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and court rulings, Mr. Smith believes the use may be allowed “by-right” on the church property.

But, because the town staff has received no details about the project, it remains unclear whether the proposal might require special use permit and/or rezoning approval by the town council, Ms. Schaeffer said.

No decision has been made yet to seek a town staff interpretation about required municipal approvals, Mr. Smith said.

He, Pastor Hackett and others have no doubt Fauquier needs a home for recovering addicts. Often, they have no jobs or home, Mr. Smith said.

“They really a have no place to go,” he added. “And if the shelter is full, what do they do? They go back to their buddy’s couch, where all the problems started in the first place.”

“They want a structured environment,” Pastor Hackett said. “Fauquier doesn’t have anything like this, and there is a need.”

Though he has played a key role in the effort to create such a home, “this is not a (Bridge Community) Church program,” Pastor Hackett said.

Homeowners who live behind the vacant church in one Warrenton’s oldest subdivisions have expressed concern about the idea.

Jody Heitman and Colin Moats, both 30, live on Cleveland Street. The couple eventually hope to start a family but worry that a home for addicts could make the neighborhood unsafe for children.

“It’s not something I would want to expose to children that we would like to have one day,” said Mr. Moats, a farrier. “I don’t want to look outside and see somebody passed out in the grass next door, God forbid that they relapse.”

The couple, who bought their home last fall, liked the neighborhood because of its proximity to Taylor Middle and Brumfield Elementary schools.

But, to have a home for recovering addicts and alcoholics “right by a school doesn’t seem like the safest or best idea,” said Ms. Heitman, who works for a defense contractor in Northern Virginia.

Mr. Moats believes people with addictions need help and supports property rights.

“I’m very much opposed to people interfering with something you can do on your property,” he said. “But, we bought a home that we thought was next to a church.”

“I’m just concerned about what that brings to the community — with drugs, alcohol, with the crime rate possibly rising,” Ms. Heitman said of the proposed use.

Bryant Anderson, who lives on nearby Jefferson Street, strongly objects to the proposal.

“Put that goddamn thing in one of those expensive houses on Winchester Street,” said Mr. Anderson, a retired Washington, D.C., police detective said. “They always want to put those people in the great unwashed area.”

Describing the community as quiet and safe, he said: “If you bring that in, I’m sorry, crap like that spills into the neighborhood.”

He has discussed the proposal with about six neighbors, Mr. Anderson said.

“They were extremely unhappy about it and told me they were going to start making phone calls” to town officials.

Cheryl and Bobby Hawkins live on Cleveland Street, two houses away from the proposed site, have a different take on the proposal.

The Hawkinses, who have five children, work for the Warrenton branch of Christ in Action, a nonprofit disaster relief organization.

They take comfort in knowing that the Smiths, who belong to The Bridge Community Church, and Pastor Hackett have led the effort to establish a home for substance abusers at the vacant building.

“We bring the hope of Christ to people all over the country,” said Mrs. Hawkins, 49. “There is no other hope in that situation than Christ. Christ alone heals the addiction and bondage of drugs and alcohol.”

The couple understand why some would object to the project.

“Anything like that comes into the neighborhood with kids, there’s going to be reservations,” Mr. Hawkins said.

But, “our God is a God of second chances,” he added. “We believe we were given a second chance. Why not give others another chance?”

“We hope to put an Oxford House there,” said Mr. Smith, who lives near Warrenton. “It’s a nationally-chartered, sober-living house model; it’s not a halfway house; it’s not an assisted living house.”

That would require the organization to “charter” the Warrenton program, he said.

Based in Silver Spring, Md., Oxford House charters and provides support to homes that serve recovering addicts and alcoholics around the country.

Under the Oxford House model, residents govern the operation, according to Mr. Smith.

But a board of local citizens would provide oversight, Pastor Hackett said.

“There’s no time limit on how long they can stay,” Mr. Smith explained. “Officers get elected. There’s a head guy, a treasurer, who pays the bills and rent.”

Residents must have jobs and pay rent — about $100 per week, Mr. Smith said. As vacancies become available, they would vote to decide who should fill them.

“It’s a sort of a self-vetting thing,” he explained.

No sex offenders or violent criminals would be admitted to the program, according to Pastor Hackett.

“They’re very strict as far as the use of alcohol and drugs,” said Mr. Smith, a retired photographer who leads a weekly substance recovery program for inmates at the county jail. “It’s a one-strike-and-you’re-out system.”

An Oxford House representative could not be reached for comment.

Many of the residents probably would be former Fauquier County jail inmates, Mr. Smith said.

“If this is approved, the gentlemen would go from bed to bed, as we say.”

While residents would get no treatment, counseling or job training at the proposed home, they would be required to attend three recovery-related meetings a week during their stay, Mr. Smith said.

“They have to continue to work on their recovery. You can’t just take the time off. You’ve got to keep working at this.”

No timetable, budget or funding exist for the project, he said.

Assemblies of God Inc. of the Potomac District Council owns the property — valued by the county for tax purposes at $837,700.

A local businessman, whom he called a “firm believer in second chances for people,” wants to buy the property and would lease it to Oxford House, Mr. Smith said.

“They’re working out the closing details,” he said of the potential buyer and the landowner.

Mr. Smith has discussed the project with PATH Foundation and Fauquier Habitat for Humanity representatives about providing funding and manpower to remodel the building’s interior.

Improvements to the 6,658-square-foot structure would include converting first-floor space into 16 private bedrooms — each with a window — upgraded restrooms to include shower stalls and possibly a sprinkler system, Mr. Smith said.

The building has a large basement kitchen the residents would use to prepare meals.

The East Shirley Avenue site seems well situated for the proposed home, Mr. Smith said.

“It’s close to the Circuit Rider (public bus system), close to downtown, close to Walmart and the (Shirley and Broadview Avenue) strip for jobs, which will give the guys an opportunity to start working.”

Mr. Smith appreciates neighbors’ misgivings about putting an Oxford House at the edge of their community.

“Once we get permission to go ahead and start the work, we would like to call the neighbors in and give them a tour of the building and tell them, ‘This is what an Oxford House is. Here’s why they make good neighbors. Here’s why we need an Oxford House’.”

He also understands that Taylor Middle School parents might object to the proposed site.

But, “You’re going to either do something about the heroin epidemic and say, ‘We’ve got a problem; this is a solution’,” Mr. Smith said. “Or, you close your eyes and wait until it’s your own kids that you read about in the paper in the obituaries or you get the call in the night.

“Do you want drug addicts getting out of jail, sleeping in the woods, homeless? Or, would you like them in a safe, sober living environment? You’ve got to make that decision, sooner or later.”

A year ago, Aug. 16, Mr. Smith’s son Brian died at the age of 32 after a long battle with heroin addiction.

Unrelated to the Oxford House proposal, The McShinn Foundation of Richmond wants to open a 14-bed substance abuse recovery and counseling center at 30 Marshall St. in Warrenton.

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Virtus · August 6, 2017 at 4:10 pm
Would The Bridge church consider building a program and housing these individuals to address the concerns of residents nearby with children?

Considerations include jobs, transportation, 12. Step recovery program.

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