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No open doors for Oxford House 

City's fears, grant process and attitude work against group. houses for alcoholics, addicts.

Ask former Chicagoan Mike Godfrey, 27, what Oxford House is and he'll tell you it's an organization that helped place him and five other men recovering from alcohol and substance abuse in a home where peer support keeps them sober, and that it's working.

Ask people who live near the rent house at 101 Plaza Drive just off Markham west of the Park Plaza Shopping Center that Godfrey and his roommates share what Oxford House is and they'll say it's an organization whose representatives were abrasive and told them only four men lived in the 1,780-square-foot house, which was not true. That they believe the men are being taken advantage of, since the six are paying $100 a week to live in a house that rents for $1,200 a month, twice as much as the rental fee and more if additional men move in. That their attempt to negotiate limits on the number of residents per house and houses per neighborhood was refused.

Residents and members of the city Board of Directors alike are particularly unhappy with what they perceive as an arrogant attitude taken by persons linked to Oxford House Inc. — including Jack (known as "Daddy Jack") Fryer of Little Rock, himself a recovering alcoholic who was incarcerated just under two years in the Department of Community Corrections for a series of DUIs — who have brought it to their attention that under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Little Rock can't regulate Oxford Houses more strictly than it does other homes for the handicapped. Oxford House representatives have argued that they don't even need to get a special-use permit for the houses.

Oxford House allies have said Little Rock could accommodate 30 or 40 such homes. That group homes housing felons and some who have mental illness as well as drug and alcohol addictions could multiply in middle-class neighborhoods has some city directors and residents worried.

Yes, says Oxford House Inc. CEO Paul Molloy, "We're arrogant." But Molloy, who founded the 38-year-old non-profit headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., said in an interview with the Times, "We help people get clean and sober and help people stay clean and sober."

"Our hustle is not about money," as some have suggested, Molloy says. "It saved my life."

Under the radar, for a while

Oxford House Inc., which operates 1,607 transitional houses in 45 states, opened its first self-supporting recovery homes in Arkansas in 2010, including one at Brookside Drive and Markham Street in Little Rock. Little Rock's second house — at 101 Plaza Drive — was chartered, in Oxford House parlance, in 2011. The houses flew mostly under the radar in Little Rock until last year.

Several things changed in 2012: Neighbors became aware they were living next to group homes, though no special-use permits had been issued for them. At the same time, a member of a state board that approves grants to providers of drug and alcohol abuse treatment began to question state officials why a grant to Oxford House Inc. had never come before it for approval.

In March, Teresa Belew, a member of the Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinating Council of the Department of Human Services, learned that a $70,000 grant to Oxford House for December 2011 through June 2012 had been awarded. It "just showed up on the financial report," Belew said. The grant was for an outreach worker to make the non-profit known to communities and potential referral sources and open five new recovery houses, three for men and two for women.

The council knew the state was working with Oxford House on a grant — Republican state Rep. John Burris of Harrison had been pushing for it since 2011 — but members expected it would be awarded in a competitive process. Instead, the grant was awarded as a sole-source. Belew began requesting information on the grant under the Freedom of Information Act, she said, after she could get no answers from the Division of Behavioral Health Services on how the grant was funded and what it paid for.

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