Prune Hill neighbors are banding together to ‘just say no’ to a proposal that would site an inpatient drug treatment and recovery center next to an elementary school in the Northwest Camas neighborhood.
“All I can say is there goes our home values, our security and our hill,” said Camas resident Robert Ball. “Great idea but absolutely the wrong place for it.”
Hundreds of Camas neighbors seem to share Ball’s views., and are speaking out on a conditional use permit set to come before the city of Camas’ hearings examiner on March 24.
If approved, the permit would convert Fairgate Estate — a bed and breakfast turned assisted living center located next to Dorothy Fox Elementary School in Camas’ Prune Hill neighborhood — into a 15-bed recovery center for adult professionals seeking 30- to 90-day residential treatment for substance abuse disorders.
After news broke in mid-February that the owners of Discover Recovery, a residential drug treatment facility in Long Beach, Washington, had applied for the conditional use permit, an anonymous group known as “Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance” launched a website, formed a limited liability corporation, organized a Change.org petition, placed signs opposing the facility throughout Camas and established a GoFundMe to collect money to hire an attorney.
As of Tuesday, March 16, 1,389 people had signed the group’s “Camas: No Drug Detox/Rehabilitation by Dorothy Fox Elementary School” petition and 49 people, nearly all of them choosing to remain anonymous, had donated a total of $5,140 to the onlinefundraiser.
On March 12, the group said it had secured legal representation from a local Camas attorney.
“Brian Lewallen, a local attorney with a background in environmental, land-use and real estate law has volunteered his exceptional knowledge and expertise in support of the alliance and our close-knit community, pro bono,” the group wrote on its GoFundMe site on March 12.
Lewallen confirmed he was representing the safety alliance group at the March 24 hearing, but the Post-Record was unable to reach Lewallen for comment before this newspaper’s print deadline.
Organizers of the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance have not responded to the Post-Record’s requests for comment.
At the heart of the opponents’ message is a belief that the inpatient rehabilitation facility would harm the Prune Hill neighborhood.
In its online appeal to Prune Hill neighbors and other Camas residents, the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance claims “the rehabilitation industry is a $42 billion industry with exceptionally little oversight (or) regulation,” brings up an unnamed community “torn apart from a kidnapping, rape, stangulation of an 11 year old girl at the hands of an addict” and asks “for community support and assistance in bringing our collective voice to local leaders regarding our legitimate concern for public safety, code use and alignment” to the city’s long-range goals.
Discover Recovery co-founder Thomas Feldman has tried to assure residents that his company “has taken measures to address potential concerns and to minimize possible negative impacts on neighbors.”
The facility, which is regulated by the Washington State Department of Health, will have 24-hour supervision and on-site medical staff, including nurses and a medical doctor set to visit the site three days a week.
Feldman said the Discover Recovery center will not allow patients to leave the facility without a pre-approved, scheduled outing; install cameras throughout the facility and monitor those cameras “24 hours a day;” and make sure programing for Discover Recovery will not include activities at an adjacent park or on school property.
His assurances have done little to assuage the fears of the many Prune Hill residents who worry the center will adversely impact their neighborhood.
Dozens of residents have voiced their concerns on the Change.org petition urging city leaders to deny the facility’s conditional use permit.
“To have a drug rehab in a heavily populated area and right next door to an elementary school is CRIMINAL!” wrote one petition-signer. “I am all for this type of facility and feel they are VERY needed. However, this is absolutely an unacceptable location!”
“Horrible idea! Worst possible location for a facility like this,” wrote another person.
“I’m signing because our children’s safety in our own neighborhood should be the highest priority,” another petition-signer commented. “Quality public schools, livability and safe neighborhoods are the identity of Camas, not for profit businesses which bring unwelcome and unsafe elements to our immediate community. I’m supportive of drug rehab centers but NOT next to an elementary school.”
Long Beach Police chief: ‘We’ve had less trouble with the drug rehab than we did with the retirement home’
Camas residents who have spoken out in opposition to the Discover Recovery facility say they fear the drug treatment center would be unsafe for the children at the nearby Dorothy Fox Elementary School and would contribute to an uptick in crime in Prune Hill.
The Discover Recovery facility located in Long Beach on the Washington coast, has been in that community for a little more than two years, and Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright told the Post-Record this week that he doesn’t lose any sleep over the drug rehabilitation and treatment center.
“We’ve had calls over there, but it’s not been over the top,” Wright said of the Long Beach Discover Recovery center. “We’ll get a call that a client left against advice, or they’ll ask us to do a welfare check, but I wouldn’t classify it as a problem. It’s not something I wake up everyday worrying about.”
The Long Beach drug treatment and recovery facility is located in a residential neighborhood with a baseball field across the street, Wright said, adding: “It just hasn’t been a huge issue.”
In fact, Wright said, the Long Beach Police Department had more serious calls at the Discover Recovery address when it was a senior living facility.
“We’ve had less trouble with the drug rehab than we did with the retirement home,” he said.
Feldman told the Post-Record in February there is an urgent need for small drug treatment and recovery centers like the one being proposed in Camas.
“For people who are looking for treatment, especially for adult professionals — doctors, lawyers and other professionals — who want a highly individualized treatment experience without having to go to California or Utah, there are not a lot of facilities in (the Pacific Northwest),” Feldman said.
He added that, while the 40-bed Discover Recovery center in Long Beach is equipped to treat people with few resources, the Camas treatment facility would be geared toward working professionals.
Neighbors share fears with Camas City Council
Although most Camas residents have been posting their fears regarding the proposed drug treatment facility on social media apps like NextDoor and on the online Change.org petition, some have shared their thoughts in a more public forum.
Three community members spoke at the Camas City Council’s regular meeting on Monday, March 15, and all were opposed to placing a treatment facility at Fairgate Estates.
“I live a few hundred feet from this facility, and I understand the growing need for rehab (centers), but want quality rehab facilities,” Prune Hill resident Hannah Rogers told the city council this week. “I feel like there is a bit of an obvious hole in our zoning that would allow this to be right next to an elementary school. That means that every single school in Camas is fair game.”
Rogers said she feared more drug rehabilitation facilities, perhaps ones “of lesser quality” would come to Camas and set up shop near other schools if the city hearings examiner set precedent by allowing a treatment center to set up shop next to Dorothy Fox Elementary School.
“The precedence we’re setting is the most important thing to think about on a larger scale,” Rogers said.
Camas residents Maggie Koch and Yoshie McClanahan also spoke at Monday night’s council meeting.
McClanahan said she worried that a “nondiscrimination bill” would pass that would mandate all drug rehabilitation facilities open to “all patients seeking services.”
“Could we have homeless encampments right here in Camas?” McClanahan asked the city councilors, adding that she would like to know if the city was prepared to “ramp up enhanced police presence.”
Koch said she worried the facility would not have a doctor on site and would have “just two staff members overseeing their 15 patients (and) neither are medical professionals.”
“I’m concerned about safety,” Koch told the city councilors, adding that she worries about a lack of behavior control among the center’s future patients.
“I’m concerned such volatility could slip over into our community,” she said. “They cannot promise us that they will not be required to treat a sex offender.”
“A center of this nature is misguided, unsafe and incongruent with past uses of this property,” Koch said.
State oversees inpatient drug rehabs, says Discover Recovery ‘in good standing’
Feldman has said the Camas facility will have at least two staff members — including a nurse — on-site, 24 hours a day. He also said the facility is not a sober-living or outpatient facility but rather a center treating residents who are there voluntarily and who will not be allowed to have guests or leave the facility unaccompanied.
The are no plans to expand the Camas facility to more than 15 beds at this time, and Feldman said the center would not admit registered sex offenders “unless required by law.”
The Long Beach Discover Recovery includes a medical director, clinical director, nurse practitioner, two registered nurses and two primary counselors on its staff — all of whom have licenses in good standing, according to state records.
The Washington State Department of Health oversees residential drug treatment facilities in the state of Washington.
Inpatient drug rehabilitation facilities in Washington must go through a licensing process that includes background checks and state approval of the facility’s building construction, policies and procedures, said state Department of Health spokesperson Katie Pope.
“Once operational, (the state) routinely surveys the facility and conducts chart and personnel file reviews. Surveys occur on a regular basis, every 18 months,” Pope told the Post-Record on Tuesday, March 16. “In addition to surveys, DOH reviews complaints and investigates potential violations of state laws and rules. If the complaint is substantiated, DOH can take enforcement action as necessary.”
Pope said state records show the Long Beach Discover Recovery facility is “in good standing with DOH, with no disciplinary action.”
She added the state did receive and investigate four complaints against the facility in 2019, but said Discover Recovery submitted plans for correcting the issues, and that “it’s important to note that the complaints were not necessarily patient- or patient-care related.”
The Post-Record has submitted public records requests for more information about each of the 2019 complaints and Discover Recovery’s correction plans.
‘Local recovering addict’ appeals to neighbors, asks for respectful conversation
Jesse Cirillo grew up in Camas’ Prune Hill neighborhood. He attended Dorothy Fox Elementary School, Skyridge Middle and Camas High before graduating from Hayes Freedom HIgh School in 2011.
Now a 28-year-old married father with two young daughters, Cirillo has purchased his childhood home and is raising his family in the same neighborhood where he grew up.
“I’m absolutely concerned about the safety of our children, but I’m also concerned about children who are living in homes with parents who are using drugs and can’t get help because the community stigmatizes addicts,” Cirillo recently told the Post-Record.
A recovering addict who has been clean for eight years, Cirillo knows exactly what happens inside inpatient drug treatment centers.
“By the time I was 16, I was an (intravenous) heroin user,” Cirillo said.
When he turned 19, Cirillo checked himself into an inpatient drug rehabilitation program.
“By the time I got to inpatient treatment, I was so done living a life of lying and hurting people, I just wanted a reprieve … so I was willing to follow the rules and do what I needed to do to get clean,” he said.
Cirillo said he was pleased to see that Discover Recovery planned to transform the Fairgate Estates building into a drug treatment and recovery center.
“I remembered when this was a bed and breakfast. I found out they were proposing a rehab facility on Prune Hill and thought, ‘What a blessing that we get to be a place for people to recover,'” Cirillo said.
Then he noticed a growing number of posts on his Prune Hill neighborhood’s NextDoor page disparaging drug addicts and insinuating that people seeking substance abuse treatment might harm children at the nearby Dorothy Fox Elementary School.
“It sounds like they think addicts are something that is evil. Like they’re going to kidnap children and do some weird vampire stuff,” Cirillo said. “I try to stay as far away from NextDoor as possible, but that hit me personally. I don’t view addicts that way.”
So, Cirillo decided to post to NextDoor and reach out to his neighbors.
“I decided to make one post to say, ‘Hey guys, I live in this neighborhood and am a recovering addict, so if you’d like a different perspective, reach out to me directly,'” he said.
Cirillo’s post, titled “Your Local Recovering Addicts” said he and his wife, Rachel — also a recovering addict — would be willing to speak directly to any neighbor who had fears or concerns about the proposed drug rehabilitation center.
“I was introduced to heroin in high school (right here in Camas),” Cirillo told his neighbors. “I continued to use for many years here on Prune Hill. I have personally been to several treatment facilities. I hear the concern about the predatory nature of the rehabilitation industry. Yes, that is a concern that is valid. At the same time, we are in an epidemic among a pandemic. Recovery resources are limited and we need all tools and harm reduction to combat this disease.”
He added that, as the father of two girls, ages 2 and 4, who will attend Dorothy Fox Elementary School, he has “no fear about the clients within the treatment facility.”
Jesse and Rachel Cirillo provided their personal email addresses for neighbors who wished to reach out to talk about the proposed center.
Cirillos’ NextDoor post generated more than 100 comments and Jesse said he spoke to a few people via email.
“I wasn’t aiming to change their minds, I just wanted to dialogue with people who disagreed with me,” Cirillo said. “When hard topics like this come up, our ability to dialogue collectively as a community is important. Disagreeing with respect is so important when everything is so polarized, and I hope we can have that in our little community of Camas.”
Hearing examiner will conduct virtual hearing on March 24
In their application for a conditional use permit, the Discover Recovery owners point out that the city’s zoning code allows a nursing or convalescent home, defined as “an establishment which provides full-time care for three or more chronically ill or infirm persons,” as a conditional use for the R-12 zone where Fairgate Estates is located.
According to the Discover Recovery application, the facility contends it meets the conditional use requirements “by providing living units for individuals seeking to recover from disorders in the abuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances … and by (providing) a safe and holistic setting staffed with medical and clinical professionals to help those who are suffering substantive abuse orders.”
The application also states the facility will be staffed by “three medical and clinical professionals, two food service/kitchen professionals, a maintenance person, one executive, and a patient admissions person” on weekdays, with a medical doctor visiting the facility for approximately two hours, three days a week.
After the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, the facility plans to have “periodic supervised off-site resident group outings” between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the weekends, two to three times each month.
The Camas hearings examiner will conduct a virtual public hearing regarding Discover Recovery’s application for a conditional use permit at 5 p.m. March 24. For more information, visit cityofcamas.us/images/DOCS/PUBLIC/publicnotices/2021notices/CUP21-01%20Notice%20of%20App%20and%20Hearing.pdf