FC Zoning Hearing Board Considers Half-Way House

Ford City Zoning Hearing Board Members Tanya Gladysiewski, Lou Vergari, and John Thompson are joined by Solicitor James Favero last night as they listen to Firetree Ltd. Corporate Counsel George Bishop (right) discuss turning the old PPG office building into a half-way house.

Approximately 75 people showed up last night to hear plans to put a drug/alcohol half-way house in the former PPG office building at 500 Third Avenue in Ford City.

The property went through foreclosure and is in the hands of Armstrong County Building and Loan. Firetree, Ltd is wanting to buy the property and create a 30-bed transitional housing program that would take persons that have finished an in-patient recovery program and help them re-establish themselves within the community.

“We are a company that has been in business 25 years. We manage drug and alcohol rehab facilities throughout Pennsylvania,” explained Firetree Corporate Counsel George Bishop to the Zoning Hearing Board. “We have been in Indiana County for ten years. Currently we operate a facility in Blairsville that is an in-patient rehab facility. That means the residents there are recovering from addiction. They stay at the facility for up to 90 days, depending on severity of their addiction, and receive treatment. Also in Indiana, PA, we operate a 30-bed drug and alcohol rehab half-way house, which is almost identical to the use we are proposing here in Ford City.”

Bishop said that the individuals that would be eligible for the half-way house would come from treatment facilities such as ARC Manor in Kittanning and are ready for the next phase of their transition. Once in the half-way house, individuals stay between 90 days to six months.

He said the individuals do not come from prisons. He said it is not a clinic since no drugs or medical treatment is done in a half-way house. He said the clinical therapists onsite provide counseling to the residents which is a requirement of the program. Residents may only leave the facility for specific reasons, such as going to a job or doctor’s appointment. Departures are scheduled and residents have a specific amount of time before they must return to the facility. Residents are expected to find employment within three weeks of entering the facility. Residents are also regularly drug tested and undergo a breathalyzer test each time they re-enter the facility. It would be staffed and monitored 24 hours per day.

Bishop said there currently is no transitional living facility available in Armstrong County. He said that if someone completed a 30-day treatment program at ARC Manor, they could end up back into undesirable situations because there was no place to go.

Bishop said the building is ideal for such a facility since it was previously used as a personal care home and a women’s recovery facility in the past.

“The previous use of this property was a drug and alcohol half-way house, very similar to the use we are proposing. That use was approved in 2010 and operated as Mia House. It was for women suffering with addiction with children. The interior is already set up for this use.”

Bishop said that the inside was in disrepair and would need renovation to make it habitable again.

“Firetree is ready and willing to put the money into this property. We would like the opportunity to return the property to what it once was. It seems to be an historic landmark in the town.”

Jessica Atwood tells the Ford City Zoning Hearing Board her experience at the half-way house in Indiana, PA, where she is employed.

Jessica Atwood from Kittanning is employed in Firetree’s Indiana half-way house facility as a Senior Therapist. She explained how residents advance through the program during the time they are in the facility.

“We have a strict wake-up time at 7AM. They meet with their counselor and do their individual sessions. Then they have lunch. After lunch, depending what phase you are in, you can be allowed out as scheduled to go look for a job. If you have a job, then you are allotted free time to go out and buy personal hygiene stuff. After dinner, they are taken to Alcohol or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, so they can build support system within the community. We have a strict lights-out at 11PM.”

Atwood testified that she has not had any complaints by neighbors. She said none of the residents committed crimes while they were out of the facility. She said that her staff often does random checks to make sure the residents are doing what they said they were going to do when they signed out of the facility.

The Zoning Hearing Board now has 45 days to reconvene and render their decision.

TOMORROW: The Kittanning Paper will explore the reaction of the local residents and business leaders in Ford City to the possibility of a half-way house.