Eat photo

Three residents of the sober living house at 70 Russell St. eat dinner recently in the second-floor living room.

A lot of negative assumptions are made about people in recovery. They’re failures. They can’t be trusted. They’ll never get over their addiction.

A Manchester neighborhood has added a new one – predators. Aggravated about a nearby recovery house, several Manchester residents worried about its impact on their grandchildren.

One said he scratched plans for a swimming pool. He’s not going to have men in recovery spying on his granddaughter at the pool.

“It’s not going to happen. I’ll move out of the city of Manchester,” said the Orange Street resident. (I’ll be kind and not name him.)

He’s afraid of people like Mike, a grandfatherly-like guy who wears a cross on his neck and cooks a lot of the dinners at the recovery house.

Or Justin, 38, an alcoholic with a wife and teenage son at home. A nurse, Justin was completing a two-month stint at 70 Russell St.

With a capacity of 16 people, the home offers an opportunity for residents to bond and encourage one another in their recovery, Justin said.

“It’s neat to see people 20 years younger than me getting it figured out,” said Justin.

The Concord-based Blueprint Recovery Center took me up on my suggestions to visit the home. It’s been operating out of a two-toned Victorian house since October 2018.

There are no reports of loud parties, suspicious characters or frequent ambulance calls. But a neighborhood meeting called by Alderman Will Stewart drew nearly 100 people, who complained that the home lacks proper permits.

Permits or not, it seems like a nice place to live. The interior is well lit and clean. The front room features a fireplace, stained-glass windows inside natural wood frames, and patterned hardwood floors. It fits into the neighborhood of stately Victorian homes.

If the house lacks anything, it’s clutter. There’s no unopened mail on the kitchen table; no overcoats hung on hooks; no family photos and artwork on walls.

To Blueprint, sober living is the missing link in the standard recovery model. After a day of treatment, someone needs to return to a home where temptations are kept at bay; where they can practice simple life skills, such as cooking, laundry, keeping to a schedule.

“I was living like an animal. You need to slowly walk your way back into society,” said Tommy, 20. He was living under a bridge in Lawrence, Mass., and shooting fentanyl six times a day before joining the program.

“I feel cared about here,” Tommy said.

Tommy approaches his recovery with a 20-year-old’s enthusiasm and determination. Both Kyle, the overnight manager, and Justin say he is an inspiration.

The house is divided into two programs. The top two floors, where nine were living this week, is early recovery.

Residents do everything together. They wake in the morning, eat breakfast and travel to Concord for six hours of counseling at Blueprint. They return to Manchester. Some days they go to the Fit Lab gym. They do chores and eat dinner. They attend AA meetings.

No one can walk to the nearby 7-Eleven to buy a pack of smokes. They surrendered their cellphones when they joined the program. Even television use gets monitored. They’re in bed by 10 p.m.

More independence is given to those who live on the ground floor, which had only one resident the week of Jan. 27. They likely work. They can come and go. By that stage they are likely paying the $150 a week room and board.

“We got things we’re working on here; we’re growing like men,” said Kyle, who went through the program last year and is now the overnight manager.

Blueprint will have to go before city regulators in the next couple of months for a variance. Neighbors want the house shut down.

But the city is in a catch-22. Blueprint only needs a variance because it has on-site staff at the home. Were the same people living at the home without staff, they would meet the definition of a family in the city ordinance and bypass the need for a variance.

“We know that sober homes exist throughout the city,” said Jonathan Gerson, the executive director at Blueprint. “They’re all still operating. The city hasn’t shut them down. Why? The city needs sober homes.”

Gerson owns an un-staffed sober-living home for women at a nearby address, 296 Orange St. It has no connection to Blueprint.

In short, these are people working on improvement. Probably more self-aware than most of us.

But what about neighborhood grandchildren?

I contacted an outsider, John Burns, who runs the SOS Recovery Community Organization on the Seacoast. He said he’s never seen anything that links people in recovery to higher rates of crime.

All sorts of sober homes exist, Burns said, and it’s important that they’re run correctly and certified. (Blueprint’s home is certified, according to paperwork it filed with the city.)

If someone does relapse, they’ll get kicked out of a sober home, Burns said. A well-run home would make sure they have a place to go – the Granite Pathways Doorway, a treatment program, a homeless shelter, if nothing else.

“I get why people are fearful,” Burns said.

They don’t know about recovery, so they think the worst. He invited them to visit his operation in Dover.

“Most of the neighbors,” he said, “don’t know it’s there.”

Contact Mark Hayward at mhayward@unionleader.com.