FARMINGTON — “We wish you all kinds of luck,” select board chair Matt Smith said to Amanda Ricci, director of Lifeline for ME.
Ricci owns Lifeline for ME LLC, a mental health and substance use disorder agency based in Livermore Falls. Ricci is working with the Fletcher Group to establish the first recovery housing unit in Franklin County, and was asked to share the proposal with the Farmington select board in the August 9 meeting.
Ricci has her eye on the Holman House, which is currently owned by the Congregational Church and is on the market at $495,000. There are other similar properties that may be an option, Ricci said.
The Holman House would allow a 12-bed recovery house.
At this time, Ricci has an application in with the county commissioners for American Rescue Plan Act funds. She made an informal presentation in May 2022, and was told the commissioners are looking for one-time funding requests for ARPA funds rather than giving on-going support.
Using that information, the proposal is for $602,000 to purchase a house and support the first year’s operation. From there, the housing would be self-sustaining or supported by donations and funding from other avenues.
Ricci said she was supposed to speak to the commissioners on August 19, but was told her presentation would be postponed; she was unsure when she would be able to make a full presentation to the commissioners.
Targeted at individuals in substance use recovery who are coming out of other treatment programs, such as incarceration or rehabilitation, Ricci felt this housing would meet a need within Franklin County. Individuals would be required to meet step goals as a condition of residency. These goals would include continued sobriety, recovery support services, and finding and maintaining employment or education. Rent would likely be $500 per month, with possible subsidizing for the first month’s rent for those who meet ‘fairly stringent’ requirements. Residents would typically stay in recovery housing for six to nine months while getting their feet under them.
Farmington is a fairly central location in Franklin County and, as the county seat, offers the most resources for mental health and substance use services. The Western Maine Transportation bus line that runs through Farmington would allow residents to live in Farmington and work in other parts of the county. Franklin County residents, people experiencing homelessness, and people recently released from incarceration would be the top priority for this housing, although the program would not prohibit others from residency.
Designated by the National Alliance of Recovery Residences as a level two recovery housing project, this proposal would include one paid executive director position and one peer house manager or senior resident, who would be an individual farther on their recovery journey with peer support training.
It can be very challenging for someone to focus on recovery when they don’t have a roof over their head, Ricci said, adding that recovery housing and increased support can help lighten the burden on first responders, the jail and court system, and the hospital and emergency room.
Recovery housing is different from a shelter, and the zoning requirements are different. Technically, a 12-bed recovery housing unit would be considered a single-family dwelling, Ricci said.
Selectman Joshua Bell asked about security for the house.
The process to obtain residency would involve a fairly intensive screening process and there would be random drug and alcohol tests to ensure sobriety is maintained, Ricci said. For this housing model, there is not much additional security needed. It is not a shelter, it is a recovery housing unit, and residency requires individuals to invest in themselves and their recovery journey.
Selectman Scott Landry applauded the project, but expressed concern that Ricci may have trouble getting funding from the county commissioners and may also run into a ‘brick wall’ with the community.
“There may be some work to do with the ‘not in my back yard’ crowd,” Ricci acknowledged, “And we’re prepared for that.”
Dennis O’Neil, a Farmington resident and member of the budget committee, said that they already have people on the streets who are struggling with substance use disorders and those who have been recently released from incarceration, and providing a safe and supportive recovery house wouldn’t be any worse than what they already have. “Seems to me to be a positive step forward for the community.”