HALLOWELL — Elaina George didn’t have to attend the Planning Board meeting Wednesday night to discuss her planned drug recovery house, but she wanted to educate, and to alleviate some of the fears expressed by members of the community.

“We are going to be a star in the community,” George said.

George, a former nurse and a recovering drug addict, is leading the effort for the planned Oxford House location, at 138 Town Farm Road, and hopes to have the first residents moved in by Aug. 1.

George’s plan drew criticism from neighbors who brought it to the board’s attention during the public comment period during Wednesday’s meeting. It was not on the official agenda.

Larry Davis has been the most outspoken critic of George’s proposal, saying that the Silver Spring, Maryland-based Oxford House organization provides no oversight and no management of the house and no real resident screening process.

George countered by stressing that while the house is self-run by its residents, there is a thorough interview process, weekly random drug and alcohol testing and weekly house meetings. She assured the community that violent criminals and sex offenders would not be permitted.

Under the Fair Housing Act, people with a disability or handicap as defined by the act are protected against discrimination. The act’s definition includes drug addiction and alcoholism, provided the condition is not caused by current illegal use of a controlled substance.

Interim Code Enforcement Officer Richard Dolby said such houses don’t merit any application, review or even discussion, and doing so could be considered discrimination.

During the initial public comment period, several residents mentioned their concerns for “having druggies and alkies running up and down the street” and other seemingly irrational fears about people in recovery.

Margie Taylor, of Boston, is the president of an Oxford House in Portland and said the stigma and lack of information and ignorance causes a lot of the fears.

“I wish that people wouldn’t just assume things, but rather would go and get the information from the horse’s mouth,” Taylor said. “There are rules we have to follow and obligations we have. We aren’t here to scare you or run amok.”

Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, said she has heard some of the concerns from constituents but said she welcomes the house.

“What I’ve learned is that the people that are moving into the community and into this house are just like all of us,” Warren said. “I encourage everyone to please do some research.”

Andrew Rice, of Augusta, one of the applicants, said he understands the fear. But he said he is a responsible member of the community who has been sober for seven months and needs the support of the Oxford House program to continue in his recovery.

To live in an Oxford House, residents must complete a minimum of 20 hours per week of either work, school or volunteering; go to a minimum number of recovery meetings; maintain a relationship with a sponsor; and complete all household obligations. A positive drug test leads to a removal from the house within 15 minutes of the notification of a failed test.

“This is truly a gift to the community,” George said. “I am a success story, and we are the neighbors you want beside you.”

There are eight Oxford Houses in the Portland area and four others across the state. George, who is from Sidney, said she began thinking about opening an Oxford House in the Augusta area as soon as she moved into one in Portland.

“I want to continually build these houses around Augusta so people have the opportunity to recover,” she said Monday. “If not for this program, I wouldn’t be giving back to the community. I’d still be taking from it.”

She started a GoFundMe page in April hoping to raise $4,000 for the house to buy items such as beds, bureaus and other furnishings. George said the house has undergone a complete renovation and has new appliances, drywall and other upgrades. As of Wednesday evening, George’s campaign had raised $947.

The Planning Board thanked George and her supporters, including her father, John, for the information. They didn’t act on the proposal because it doesn’t appear as though they have any jurisdiction to do so under the protections of the Fair Housing Act.

“You wouldn’t know that I’m a felon, a drug addict or an alcoholic,” George said, “because Oxford House showed me the right way to live.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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