Port Norfolk neighbors angry over ‘sober home’

12 Lorenzo St. property owner George Bragel discusses the outcome of the meeting with State Representative Marty Walsh12 Lorenzo St. property owner George Bragel discusses the outcome of the meeting with State Representative Marty Walsh

The Port Norfolk Civic Association this week declared its unilateral opposition to the continued operation of a “sober home” — a residential drug and alcohol recovery program — that has recently begun operating from a house on Lorenzo Street. More than 35 residents gathered in the Port Norfolk Yacht Club to voice their opposition to the recently-opened sober home following complaints by some neighbors that the new residents at 12 Lorenzo St. have been loitering in a nearby park and concerns that members of the program may have criminal records.

Civic members confronted property owners George and Shirley Bragel, who have purchased four properties on Lorenzo Street and own several other properties currently used as sober homes across the neighborhood. Pressed on whether they intend to turn any additional Port Norfolk properties into sober housing, the Bragels denied they had any intentions of renting these buildings to another recovery program. 

Sober homes are group residences meant for people recovering from substance abuse who have completed a more intense therapeutic program and want to live among others in recovery before living on their own again. Currently, there is no legal status or regulations for sober homes in Massachusetts. However a Department of Public Health report on the subject is slated for completion by the end of the year and is expected to serve as a guideline for future laws governing the programs.

WEB EXTRA: Read this special report on sober homes published by the Reporter and our partners at Watchdog New England last November.

The program on Lorenzo Street is part of the New Horizon House network, a group of at least eight sober homes operated by Carl Smith, including locations on Savin Hill Avenue, Rill Street, and Draper Street. Smith was told Tuesday that he must apply for an occupancy permit in order to continue operating the Lorenzo Street program, an application the civic association’s leadership has promised to oppose.

Smith said during the meeting that the Lorenzo Street property currently has nine residents living in three units, each of whom pays $150 a week and must take up to three drug tests a week to ensure they are staying clean, Smith also added that he performs CORI checks on all residents prior to acceptance into the program and that one of the nine residents on Lorenzo Street is currently on probation for a drug-related offense.

Lorenzo street resident John Stryjewski contested that claim, citing a New Horizon application which does not make mention of criminal background checks but does ask whether applicants are sex offenders or have any outstanding warrants for their arrest.

While many residents voiced concerns about the program’s potential impact on the neighborhood, the lack of community input prior to the sober home’s opening drew the most ire from elected officials and neighbors.

City Councillor Maureen Feeney criticized Smith for failing to address the civic association before opening the program.

“With up to 12 unrelated people living on three floors, you are in violation of a city ordinance,” Feeney said. “You’re not new to this game, so the fact that you did not apply for an occupancy permit shows you are disrespecting this community and you are breaking the law.”

Smith replied that he had already been in communication with the Mayor’s office and would be “going there later this week to straighten things out.”

“I’ll be at that hearing, you can count on that,” Feeney responded.

State Representative Marty Walsh also weighed in on the issue, saying that with no state oversight there is no way to ensure those in recovery are receiving the help they need.

“In Dorchester there are a lot of these so-called sober houses and sometimes people are putting people into homes that are not really sober,” Walsh said. “Opening this program should have been explained to the neighborhood long before tonight.”

When asked by a resident why the state could not intervene against New Horizon House, Walsh explained, “there is no state license for a sober home, but we’re working on it.”