Collingdale residents filled Borough Hall last Wednesday night to express dissent during the Zoning Board hearing for Harwood House II, a 21-bed halfway house residential treatment facility for women that wants to establish a facility in that community.
The public hearing was held about its application for its property in the 300 block of Clifton Ave. which proposes a halfway house for a “short-term residential recovery program.” In conjunction with the intended use, Harwood House is seeking a special exception to interpret the term “family” as determined by the Collingdale Borough Zoning Code.
An informational packet by Harwood made available to meeting attendees started with a letter by board President Theresa Clark and Executive Director Joy Douglas. In the letter and during the hearing, Douglas spoke about the epic increase in the number of people experiencing substance use disorders across the country and a disturbing rise in the number of overdoses in Delaware County.
A typical day in the program includes various meetings and groups, chores, counseling, and time allocated for job searches. The average stay is 90 days but in some cases can extend to five months.
“It is much needed in the county,” explained Douglas. “We want to give women the treatment they need so they can get back to their families and children. A lot them aren’t used to going to work. They’re used to living in isolated addiction. At the facility they are around people, learning social skills, coping skills, anger management and getting support from one another. It’s much easier to walk with someone in recovery than to do it alone and isolated. It’s teaching people how to reintegrate back into the community.”
The standing-room only audience of over 100 residents was vocal in its opposition. During the three-hour hearing, Zoning Board officials asked for order numerous times throughout the meeting. Nearly 20 residents asked questions, expressed concerns, and some shared personal tales of addicts in their family.
Main concerns were around proximity to schools, security measures, parking, and drug testing of residents. A repeated concern was the facility’s location; less than .2 miles from Harris Elementary School, about 1.1 miles from Academy Park High School, and numerous daycare centers. Also, residents pointed out, there are bars and beer distributors within walking distance of the proposed location.
“No neighborhood that has a program like this has done better,” said Collingdale resident Nolana Long. “Instead it deteriorates. I have seen it…women walking away or into the halfway house with alcohol. Buying and selling drugs. Police being called. Do we want to sacrifice everyone to help a few? We have a vested interest in our homes. This is where we live.”
Added resident Jonathan Bowles: “We have ordinances and zones to protect private interest as well as business. The area in question was zoned residential for a reason. You are trying to install a facility into our neighborhood that is not in our best interest. We do not want this in our neighborhood. You are going to be putting people who are not wanted, who already have significant problems, into a central location and surround them in an area where they are not wanted. I see this as negligent.”
Resident Nina Jaje, a mother of four children in area schools, spoke of a family member in rehab who discarded a needle on a sidewalk that was picked up by child. Jaje expressed similar concerns if Harwood House II were to be approved and other concerns over the current state of Collingdale.
“I walk down the street and people offer me samples of drugs,” said Jaje. “Collingdale is not the place to have recovering addicts when half of Collingdale is on drugs. We have enough drugs already. I’m in my ‘mom clothes’ and I have drug dealers offering me samples, ‘I have this. I have that,’ (they say). We have a big enough problem in Collingdale already and you want to bring other people here. It’s backwards.”
“What precautions are going to be taken so our kids won’t pick up drug paraphernalia?” asked Jaje. “What will happen if our kids contract something from picking up a dirty needle that one person (dropped), one bad seed who relapsed and didn’t clean up their mess?”
A decade ago, David Tomlinson was a resident in treatment at Harwood House I on West Chester Pike in Upper Darby and today he is an addictions counselor there. During public comment, he offered his unique perspective.
“The understanding of Harwood House is being misconstrued where these people need securing. They don’t need 24-hour medical supervision,” said Tomlinson. “They are able to go out to work and function in society. We want them to come back and check in because they get overwhelmed. These people are already in the community. If we are not helping them they are just in your community. We are trying to help these people.”
Letters of support for Harwood II came from Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael J. Chitwood; Anne Jennings, drug and alcohol administrator, Delaware County Office of Behavioral Health; Julie K. Brown, senior account executive, Magellan Behavioral Health Delaware County; Rev. Thomas M. Sodano, pastor, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church; Kay McGowan, deputy administrator of Montgomery County Drug and Alcohol Services; Megan Thomas, Montgomery County’s Drug Treatment Court coordinator; and Vincent Brown, director of Chester County’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Services.
If approved the building will be a licensed Level 2B halfway house residential treatment facility providing gender specific, evidence-based treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders for women who are eligible for medical assistance and who are authorized for treatment through HealthChoices managed care organizations and the single county authorities.
As the hearing in the unair-conditioned municipal hall passed the three-hour point, Collingdale officials asked for a show of hands of people who wanted to add comments or questions. Almost all of those in the room raised their hands.
Zoning Board officials voted to continue the hearing to allow for further comment from the public at a date to be announced within 45 days. The matter would then go to the board for a decision within 45 days or to take the matter into further review.
Funding for Harwood II comes from HealthChoices reinvestment funds.
Yearly tracking results from 2011 show to date, that 45 percent of residents have completed treatment which Douglas called “high, a good percentage of people.”