An addiction recovery home recently opened near River Plaza Elementary has raised concerns from parents and Middletown’s Township Committee after an apparent drug-related death at another of its local facilities.
Oxford House, a nonprofit organization with drug and alcohol addiction facilities throughout the country, chartered a 127 Hubbard Ave. home last December that will house 10 men. A recent alleged overdose at a Rumson facility, leading to the death of a Holmdel man and subsequent court battle, has raised safety concerns at the elementary school, now an Oxford House neighbor.
“It’s especially very close to home for me,” said Deputy Mayor Kevin Settembrino, who lives in the River Plaza section and has two young children, after a resident voiced his concern with the location at a Township Committee meeting last week.
“There are a lot of parents who are upset,” said Mark Stocker of River Plaza.
The township has no authority to control who can live in an Oxford House—its occupants are considered a family and facilities managers aren’t obligated to notify officials or neighbors when members move in.
State law says municipalities are to treat recovery homes just like single family residences, said Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante, meaning the township can regulate and enforce the amount of people living there.
“Beyond that we don’t have any authority,” he said. “They don’t need our permission to do anything. They’re simply occupying the structure as any other homeowner would.”
George Kent, who manages Oxford House’s New Jersey operations, said by phone that—while he can understand the concerns of those living nearby—he doesn’t believe the house will bring any problems to the area.
“I think we’re an asset more than a liability,” he said.
Oxford House—aside from the incident in Rumson—has operated in New Jersey without problems, Kent said, including at another Middletown location on Center Avenue.
“I would go by our long, great history,” he said. “The fact that a lot of people are staying clean says a lot about Oxford House.”
Committee member Gerard Scharfenberger said that the township may have no legal recourse in regulating addiction recovery homes, but “we don’t have to like” the law.
“I’ll speak for myself—I think it’s outrageous that [locals] who work, represent and live here have no say in where these facilities go,” he said. “It’s very frustrating to have to sit here and take these mandates and have zero say in it.”
Settembrino said it is important for the township and residents to gather the correct information and take steps from there.
“We’re going to do everything we can do with property we own, or the Board of Education owns, to make sure children are safe on properties that the government controls,” he said. “Those discussions have begun, in terms of strengthening the perimeter of the property, making certain there are administrative measures in place to keep the children safe.”
Mercantante already has met with Board of Education members, River Plaza’s principal and the school’s PTO to discuss safety. He plans to meet with Kent soon to learn more about the new facility and how it operates.
Kent doesn’t anticipate meeting with the community to discuss the home, though he said he would have no issue doing so. He pledged to keep an open line of communication with the township.