MANCHESTER, N.H. – The issue of sober houses has become a topic of concern recently in Manchester, with the Board of Aldermen seeking methods to address the issue at their Tuesday night meeting.
According to Manchester Fire Department Chief Dan Goonan, up to 60 of these facilities claiming to help individuals recovering from substance abuse. However, the lack of oversight among the myriad facilities have led to criticism that many of the homes are little more than profit centers for their operators that do not provide any true rehabilitation. Concerns have also risen about the lack of transparency surrounding many of the facilities and their proximity to unwitting neighbors, including one that recently allowed paroled felon Kevin Paul to escape due to a fault ankle monitoring bracelet. (Paul was arrested in Texas on Wednesday by U.S. Marshals. More here.)
Last week, the Manchester Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to deny a variance from a company operating a sober house on Russell Street, drawing praise from several people in attendance at City Hall on Tuesday.
Former Alderman and Board of School Committee member Rich Girard chastised the city for its inability to bring more transparency to the matter and address the problem, also criticizing members of the board for confusing sober houses with other forms of congregant living such as halfway houses, versions of sober houses specifically geared toward individuals reintegrated into society after serving time at correctional facilities.
“It is shameful that you are saying this is difficult to enforce,” he said. “It’s beyond me that you say you can’t enforce ordinances.”
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said that the primary cause behind the city’s inability to properly regulate the sober houses stemmed from a lack of state laws giving tools to municipal officials.
Manchester Planning and Community Development Director Leon LeFreniere and Goonan told the board that the city can take action in certain situations such as noise complaints or traffic violations, but when it comes to family homes, the city is limited in what it can do and appeals to fines levied by the city can take years to go through courts.
Manchester Police Department Chief Carlo Capano added that his department has received limited information about individuals living in congregant housing, excluding any of the 508 registered sex offenders that may be living in congregant housing situations.
Ward 8 Alderman Michael Porter made a motion requesting that City Solicitor Emily Rice request additional information from the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office and the Hillsborough County Department of Correction facility to discover when parolees are released into sober homes and other congregant homes in Manchester moving forward. The motion passed unanimously.