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.