UPDATE 6/21/13 @10:30 p.m.
HURRICANE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A neighborhood battle over a Putnam County sober house is reaching a boiling point and is now the subject of investigation by the attorney general.
The group home aims to help recovering substance abusers and is run by The Rock, a faith-based nonprofit organization.
It opened in April along High School Avenue to strong backlash from the community. Group leaders say the root of the problem is misunderstanding.
"We as a community need to join forces together and figure out a way to help these individuals who feel helpless to begin with," program co-director Sheila Martin said. "They're serious about their sobriety."
Mayor Scott Edwards says running the program in a residential area violates city code and wants the group to leave.
"It's pretty clear to me, they don't meet the criteria and don't need to be here," he said." The residents that live around the house are extremely upset."
Group leaders are fighting back, saying the order violates their participants' rights. They've filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, buying them 60 more days in the neighborhood while the attorney general's office investigates.
"This is only a hurdle that we have to get over," program co-director Andrew Daniels said. "Right now, our goal is to help men and women get off their addiction."
Mayor Edwards says the city will revisit the issue after 60 days when the attorney general releases a ruling.
Program leaders say they also run a sober house in a Huntington neighborhood and never experienced any problems there.
"We're just a group of people who have gone through addiction and are living together to help each other," Sheila Martin, executive director of the The Rock nonprofit group said.
A live-in program for people struggling with substance abuse is opening on High School Avenue in Hurricane. Leaders say it's a faith-based, family-style approach to recovery.
"These guys are getting a second chance and finding out that they have a purpose in life," Martin said.
But community members are calling it an intrusion, saying it's not appropriate to run the program in a neighborhood.
"I just don't see how they can come into a residential neighborhood with schools and children and have something like this," Marlene Bryan said. "I'm in fear."
James Cooper participates in the program and says he now feels victimized for trying to improve his life.
"I'm highly offended," he said. "I want to make the community a better place. I know what active addiction is like...we're trying to recover from what we've done."
Mayor Scott Edwards says the group never asked for city permission and violates code by running the group home.
"I absolutely support what they're doing, but it doesn't meet our ordinance to be doing it right here on High School Avenue," he said.
Edwards says the neighborhood is classified as an R-1 district, meaning it's only intended for single-family dwellings.
Group leaders say they will accept and house up to eight recovering addicts at a time.
"[Addiction] is in every community, it's in every neighborhood," Martin said. "There's a mentality that it's 'not in my backyard'...well, it is in your backyard."
Martin says the program makes the community safer by monitoring the recovering addicts daily and requiring them to work.
Neighbors like Bryan maintain the sober house shouldn't be there and are circulating a petition to move it to another location.
Mayor Edwards says he has issued cease and desist orders for the group and that if they're not followed, the case could eventually go to court.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updates.
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