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Townhall meeting marks return of recovery house discussion in Frankford

While the problem of fly-by-night recovery residences and halfway houses is a constant in Frankford, the discussion of them seems to arise sporadically throughout the years.  And so it was, this past Thursday, in Aria Hospital’s cafeteria, that Frankford’s 179th Pennsylvania State Representative James “Scoot” Clay convened a town hall meeting bringing together agency officials with residents to discuss concerns over the perception of the problem.  Clay started the meeting with a statement that he hoped this meeting would be the first step towards drafting legislation aimed at curbing the abuse of profit oriented landlords from exploiting drug addicts by taking their money, leaving them with no treatment, and letting them loose in Frankford to further degrade the community.  The meeting was well attended even considering that an Eagle’s game was gonna start in two and a half hours.


Department of Behavioral Health

Rowland Lamb, the city’s Director of the Office of Addiction Services, who came out to Frankford in 2009 to discuss the same issues, noted that back then, they city was committed to not supporting any more services for drug and alcohol dependency in this neighborhood, and that is still true today.

Lamb tried to make the point that the city only monitored 21 recovery facilities through 13 organizations, providing 288 beds throughout the region.  What the rest of what the community labeled “drug rehabs”, were merely boarding houses masquerading as treatment facilities.

Lamb went a step further and noted that almost nothing is being discussed, let alone done about the prevalence of “pill mills” in the area.  Pill mills, are presumably, when semi corrupt doctors prescribe hundreds of highly addictive narcotics, including percocet, oxycodone and amphetamines to individuals not looking for pain relief, but trying to resell those pills for up to $20 a pill.  But it seemed easier for attendees to argue about the simpler to describe issues revolving around illegal drugs and the comment passed into oblivion.

Perhaps the most amusing part of the night, when questioned by the crowd whether Lamb lived near recovering drug addicts, he replied that he’d trade Winnfield’s problems for Frankfords.  That he was tired of the Saint Joe’s parents buying up neighborhood homes for students. and that he was sick of underage girls throwing up in his front yard.

Licenses and Inspections

Ralph Depitro, Director of Operations, at Philadelphia’s License and Inspections spoke next, telegraphing to the crowd at least a side point to the meeting, a feel good romp for the community vent and “beat me up”.  Like Lamb, Depitro had noteworthy information.  L&I regulate buildings, not people’s behavior.  The fact that a lot of people are going into and out of houses, or sitting outside of them does not have much to do with them.  He was repeatedly challenged about what his department would do about recovery homes, to which he continually replied that he would enforce the law.  The requirements for setting up a boarding home are not stringent.  A boarding home being defined as a property that housed 3 or more unrelated persons.  The crowd seemed to be under the impression that these operators were getting permission from the city to operate.  Bu property owners only need to get a housing license.  There isn’t even a review process.  A housing license simply states that the property owner intends to house those 3 or more unrelated individuals.  He went on to point out that often the property owner

It is incredibly hard to prove that an illegal housing situation exists.  L&I isn’t allowed entry into homes without permission.  They aren’t allowed to ask for ID.  There have been cases within the department that they mistook mixed race family members for strangers in bringing about cases.  L&I often doesn’t get help from other agencies, like HUD, that might have knowledge of unrelated people in a home. They may sight privacy concerns when refusing to help determine whether zoning is being violated.

Day Care Centers are more heavily regulated than recovery houses

Fred Way, from the Philadelphia Association of Recovery Houses, chimed in sporadically and also had some good points.  It was Way who I found came the closest throughout the meeting to pushing through any attempt to resolve the recovery home issue.  He’s noted previously that it’s the bad houses that bring down the reputation of all recovery houses.  He noted that no one is going to get rid of them all.  There are too many addicts in this city, and far too few beds in official recovery houses.  It seemed like a smart move for his association to step forward and offer solutions that would be benefit residents while leaving them able to operate.  He said he and his organization were open to regulation, noting that his industry was less regulated than day care centers.

Crime on Worth Street

Seemingly tacked onto the agenda was the crime occurring around Worth and Orthodox Streets.  There was a healthy representation of the residents of the area, who brought general complaints about the gang violence and drug sales in that section of East Frankford.  Sgt Edward Pisarek from the 15th District was on hand to address the issues and noted that all instances of crime should be reported to police, whether the witness thought they’d get prompt responses or not.  Most residents didn’t seem to know that there were monthly PSA meetings with the 15th district police staff where complaints were heard.


In recent years, it seems the recovery house issue has been used as an opportunity for residents to vent their frustrations about the greater social and economic issues facing Frankford.  It’s almost as if the release of such emotions is the desired outcome of these meetings, and not resolution of the issues.Representative Clay hopes to have legislation written in 30 to 60 days.  What it will do is yet to be determined.  I’m hoping he comes through.

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Frankford Civic Associaton Meeting 1/5/2012

The January 5th meeting of the Frankford Civic was very well attended with over 25 people in the conference room on the 2nd floor at Aria Health.  There were 3 zoning issues on the agenda for the meeting.

The owner/residents of the house at 1619 Haworth Street were seeking approval for modifications made after a fire in the building.  The Board voted to approve their application.

1619 Haworth Street

The owner and architect of the building at 4134 Orchard Street are looking to convert unused warehouse space into 2 new apartments.  The board voted to approve the application.

413436 Orchard Street

The attorney for the owner of 4325-27 Frankford Avenue appeared to present a case for the legalization of the second floor of the building as a boarding house.  The owner purchased the property about two years ago with the boarding house in operation but L&I inspected and cited it for violations so it was closed down.  Those in attendance unanimously agreed that the block is over served by the number of rooms available to single people utilizing the various recovery programs and that adding another would not be an asset to the community.  The board voted to oppose the application.  The owner is free to apply for another use for the second floor of the property.

There were no words spoken against the folks who need recovery services.  Everyone agrees that those services are a necessity in the age we live in.  The issue is that Frankford has more than enough housing for those needing the services.

4325-27 Frankford Ave.

The next meeting of the Frankford Civic Association will be held on February 2nd at Aria Health.


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Recovery House Challenge

I admit it.  I don’t get it.  Why does it take state legislation to regulate recovery houses in the city of Philadelphia?  Is there something in the constitution of the Commonwealth that prohibits a county or city from controlling this issue?

The Inquirer, for some reason today, decided to pay some attention to this issue.

Jorge Santana, a former chief of staff for State Rep. Tony Payton who volunteers for the lawmaker on special projects, walks by from Payton’s nearby Frankford office and shakes his head. “This is what we’re dealing with,” Santana says of the beat-up commercial corridor.

Along the 4300 block of Frankford Avenue, with its discount stores, fast-food joints, and vacancies, the building with the blue door is one of four recovery houses in a three-block stretch that also hosts an alcohol-treatment center.

“It’s hard to get businesses to open up here,” Santana says of the disinvestment along the avenue.

His aim is to help build community through economic empowerment. Part of the challenge lies in an entrenched market. In the last five years, Santana says, Frankford has become an epicenter for drug- and alcohol-recovery houses. On one block, a recovery house sits across from an Irish pub. On another, a recovery house sits paces from a well-trafficked drug corner.

You can read the rest of the story here.  Please comment and tell me why we have gone nowhere on this issue in the four years we have been blogging about it.

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Dan Savage Responds to Councilwoman Maria-Quinonez Sanchez

Back in February I posted a bit about the recovery house issue.  It was the one year anniversary since the town hall meeting called to discuss the issue and the promise made to return to the community had not been fulfilled. Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez offered a response which I posted here.

Recently I was contacted by Dan Savage, our former Councilman, with some words of clarification.  They follow in full below.

As a life long resident of Frankford, I feel compelled to set the record straight.

Frankford is my passion. I went to grade school at St. Joachim’s and learned to play basketball at the Deni Basketball Courts. I played at Overington Park and my friends played football for the Frankford Chargers at Whitehall which is now known as Gambrel Recreation Center.  After school, I would walk up Frankford Avenue. I would stop at Schwartz’s Pretzels or get a slice of pizza at Leandro’s with my friends. Sometimes I would stop for a haircut at Lorenzo’s where I still get my haircut today.

I have great memories of Frankford and wish for brighter days for the neighborhood my family has lived in for 4 generations.

For 13 months, I had the privilege and opportunity to serve the people of Frankford from November 27, 2006 to January 7, 2008 as Councilman. The first minute I got in office, I used the resources available to a Councilperson to fight for Frankford.

I was the Councilman who had the basketball courts remilled and color coated at Deni Playground because I wanted the kids to enjoy Deni like I did. I had over $1.6 million (on top of the $1.3 million I helped get donated for Operation Field Rescue) put into Gambrel Recreation Center because the Frankford Chargers deserved a better home.  I placed over $93,000 into the restoration of the historic stonewall at Overington Park because I am invested in the neighborhood. In addition, I had new basketball backboards and swings installed as well as the fencing fixed at Wilmot Park (known as the “The Square” to people in the neighborhood).

I allocated $1 million to the Frankford Avenue Business Corridor to help revitalize the avenue. Councilwoman Sanchez moved that money the first month in her term. In addition, she introduced a bill in Council to terminate the Frankford Special Services District. I allocated $450,000 and already had landscape architects working on putting a spraypark at the old tennis courts at Deni Playground. Councilwoman Sanchez moved that money from Frankford.

When it comes to recovery houses, I fought them before I was in Council, during my term, and even today. Mayor Rendell brought us recovery houses in 1995.  Please see below the excerpt from the DBH website.

In 1995, the Philadelphia Coordinating Office for Drug and Alcohol Abuse Programs (now known as the Office of Addiction Services) established a recovery house system for persons enrolled in state-licensed outpatient substance abuse programs. The goal was to improve treatment outcomes by placing people in a positive, stable living environment that is conducive to recovery. ( )

This is a laudable goal. Unfortunately, because there is a lack of adequate control and monitoring, these recovery houses create problems for the stability and welfare of the communities where they are placed.

If recovery houses or drug treatment centers do not have to go before the Zoning Board, they can only be stopped by the Administration (Dept. of Behavioral Health/Office of Addiction Services). It has to come from the top.

After reading the response of Councilwoman Sanchez to your article regarding the recovery houses, I felt compelled to set the record straight. This is not the first time Councilwoman Sanchez has taken credit for the works of other people in Frankford. The bottom line is she did not come through on her plans for the “recovery task force”. At the end of her long response, she still did not address your initial concern. Instead, she took it as an opportunity to run off a laundry list of good things that happened in Frankford. Unfortunately, she had nothing or very little to do with any of them.

Daniel J. Savage