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McKnight Neighborhood Meeting 09/06/2016

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Special Meeting: September 06, 2016                                                                  Approved September 13, 2016

Minutes McKnight Neighborhood Council

Meeting called to order by President Walter K at 6:00 pm.

Board Members Present (11): Lamont E Clemons; Tawreak Eddington, Asst Treas; Lorenzo Gaines; Walter

Kroll, President; Bryan McFarland, Vice President; Elizabeth O’Gilvie; Nick Panteleakis; Damian Phillips, Asst Secy/Clerk; Ben Swan, Jr; Paul Swenson; Giselle Vizcarrondo

Board Members Not Present (4): Lloyd A Creswell; Art Jones; Synthia Scott-Mitchell, Sec/Clerk; Elizabeth Stevens,


Administrative Staff:   Elizabeth Lederman


Neighborhood Members & Guests: (approximately 60, documented on sign-in sheets)


City & State Officials: State Rep Benjamin Swan, Sr; State Senator James Welch; City Councilor E. Henry Twiggs; City Councilor Bud Williams; Mayoral Chief of Staff, Denise Jordan; Deputy Director of Neighborhood Service, Ed Whitley; Deputy Director of Planning, Phil Dromey; Code Enforcement Commisioner, Steve Desilets

Part I –President Walter Kroll, Meeting Overview
  • Presentation of Special Meeting Subject: 1090 Worthington Proposed Sober House
  • This special meeting has been convened at the request of neighborhood residents to discuss the proposed sober house at 1090 Worthington Street. The property was recently purchased by a non-profit corporation called The Bridge Home.  
  • Dr William Cosgriff and Christopher White, two of the principals of the group, were invited to the meeting. They have sent a staff person, Jill Evans, to represent them.
  • A set of questions (contained in the meeting agenda) was forwarded earlier to Dr Cosgriff, who provided written responses, which were distributed to the audience; and which Ms. Evans referenced in her presentation.
  • Pres Kroll informed the audience that the Bridge Home would be conducting an open house on Thursday, Sept 8, to which the neighborhood has been invited, and that Dr Cosgriff and Mr White will be in attendance to answer questions.
  • Meeting Outline & Ground Rules for Discussion
  • Agenda packet provided for the meeting included the following materials for audience to reference:
  • Letter from the Bridge Home distributed to neighbors describing proposed sober house
  • Excerpts from incorporation documents filed by the Bridge Home
  • Excerpt from the Dover amendment as it may apply to the sober house
  • MA Senate proposal for commission to evaluate and reform Dover amendment
  • Format will be as follows: Bridge Home Representative will present and then answer questions, first from the Board, and then the general audience. Following that, City officials will provide information and answer questions.
Part II—Presentation by Jill Evans, Bridge Home Representative

  • What is The Bridge Home Inc—when was it formed, who are the operators, what other facilities does it operate?
  • The Bridge Home is a non-profit corporation formed in May 2016, is tax exempt, and registered as a public charity. Formed by Christopher White, his wife Ann, and their three children.   The family receives no compensation or financial benefit from the Bridge Home.
  • The Bridge Home is managed by Christopher White and Dr Bill Cosgriff. Mr White receives no compensation. Dr Cosgriff , a licensed psychologist, is compensated but at a fraction of what he would receive in private practice.
  • The Bridge Home is financially supported by the White Family Foundation, which was founded in New York in 2012 as a charitable non-profit.  The foundation also does not compensate any of the White family members in any way.
  • Neither the White Foundation, nor the Bridge Home, has operated a facility serving those afflicted with a substance abuse disability other than the proposed facility at 1090 Worthington. However, Dr Cosgriff has been involved in the substance abuse disorder field for 40 years, and Christopher White has served a combined total of 25 years serving on the boards of three prominent organizations who deal with substance abuse disorder.

  • Details of the proposed use of 1090 Worthington as a sober house facility—type of program, staffing levels and credentials, how many clients will be living there, staff to client ratio?
  • Gave a six-point summary of their recovery plan, individualized for each guest, integrated in the living program and supported by professional staff.
  • Each guest is expected within two weeks of entering the program, to either be employed full time or attending school.
  • Dr Cogriff will be developing a plan with each guest, and the program will outsource clinical treatment and various other needs to a network of professionals which they are developing in the greater community. Any therapies or meetings conducted at the house will be only for guests; no outsiders will be coming and going.
  • Guests are required to attend three 12-step meetings each week outside of the home.
  • Program will be staffed 24 hours a day.
  • Dr William Cosgriff will serve as the educational director, has numerous professional credentials, and has been in recovery himself since 1975. He will be present most days from 3 pm to 9 pm, and will oversee the general supervision of the educational program.
  • Executive Asst Jill Evans (presenter) will be present Monday through Friday, 8 or 9 to 5. Her background is business management. She has attended a two-day certification training at MASH (Massachusetts Association of Sober Houses) related to sober house management. She will assist in the general operation of the home.
  • There will be two live-in house managers on duty from 9 pm to 830 am; and on the weekend from 830 am to 9 pm. Ms Evans and Dr Cosgriff will be on call 24 hours a day.
  • The program will begin with 6 to 8 guests for the first couple of months. Within six months they will increase to a maximum of 14-16 guests.

  • Client base—how is the program advertised, where will referrals come from, who will vet and approve client admissions to the program? 
  • The Bridge Home will advertise in the following four ways
  • Their website
  • A letter to professionals in the substance abuse disorder field
  • Ten radio spots on NPR
  • Print advertising in local health care publications
  • They expect that most referrals will come from treatment centers and professionals working in the field
  • William Cosgriff will vet every applicant and monitor their progress.
  • Applicants must have 30 days of continuous abstinence before admission, and have completely finished with the withdrawal process to the degree that they do not need any medical treatment.
  • Guests will be drug tested on weekly basis; zero tolerance for those who test positive, will have to immediately leave the house.

  • Program Cost—how much does each client pay to live there—weekly, monthly? Is this private pay only, or does the program qualify for insurance coverage? Will the operators be using local, state, or federal funding to subsidize their beds?
  • Cost is $850 per month. Does not cover the complete cost, the rest is provided for by the Foundation. The program does not qualify for insurance, and it will not be utilizing any local, state, or federal funds.
  • Ms Evans concluded her presentation, and said she would take notes on any questions that she was unable to answer during the question period; and answers would be forthcoming from Mr White and Dr Cosgriff. She encouraged everyone to attend the open house on Thursday.
Questions/Comments from the Board of Directors
  • Rep Lorenzo G: 
  • Q: What is the family’s connection to the issue of substance abuse recovery? What prompted them to get involved?
  • Mr White has been interested in this work for many years, as reflected by his service on many Boards. The Whites are originally from Springfield—they want to give back to the community.
  • Rep Elizabeth O: Expressed concern about the lack of a clinical care plan, and observed that one psychologist was not enough to offer the type of clinical care support for a program of this scope.
  • Q: Asked Ms Evans if her two-day training related to clinical issues or management of the house.
    • The training was related only to the basics of running a sober house. Ms Evans allowed that her role is not clinical; she is the administrative assistant; but that Mr White and Dr Cosgriff bring years of experience.  
    • Will refer question about clinical care plan to them.
    • Q: Do you anticipate that the majority of guests will be individuals coming from Springfield who are not presently being served? Rumor has it that the program is designed to serve more affluent families from out of town.

  • Will refer question.
  • Elizabeth expressed skepticism that Springfield would be able to the provide jobs for clients in the program as they seem to be anticipating, since employment is a significant problem in the city. Requested details on how they expect to fulfill this expectation.
  • Pres Walter K: Noted an apparent lack of awareness that there is a daycare next door, as well as five other transitional living facilities within a few blocks of the house.
  • Q: How was the search conducted that resulted in choosing to locate at 1090 Worthington?

  • Will refer question. 
  • Rep Damian P: Your foundation is from New York, and its directors are from a very wealthy area of the city. Presumably they are deriving some sort of benefit by locating their facility here.
  • Q: What is your facility planning on doing to help Springfield and this area to be more conducive to your facility?  

  • Will refer question.
  • Q:   How many more houses in our neighborhood are you planning to open?
  • No more are planned for now. Unable to speak to future plans.
  • Rep Lorenzo G: Gave Ms Evans two specific questions to refer: Q: To Ms Evans specifically, what “good neighbor” policies did you learn at your MASH training and how will they be implemented in your program?
  • Q: Your handout says each guest will have a formal treatment plan. Please provide an explanation of what that means. Q: Your handout says that “most guests” will have completed a formal treatment program before entering the Bridge Home program, which means “some guests” will not. What are parameters for making that exception, and who besides Dr Cosgriff will be making the decision?
    • Making sure that the grounds of the house are kept up, the lawn is mowed, trash picked up, etc. 
    • Residents have a curfew so they will not be coming home late and waking up the neighbors.
    • Q: What is your discharge policy, in the event that you turn someone out for failing to pass a drug test or some other event? Can you legally do this relative to landlord/tenant law?

  • The Bridge Home guests sign a contract devised by the attorneys which allows them to be terminated for breaking the curfew or the contract, and must leave the premises immediately if asked to do so.
    • Q: Can you provide a copy of the contract to the Board

  • Will do so if Mr White says it is okay
  • Q: Your rules state that no guest will be admitted who has a history of sex offense, arson, or violent criminal behavior. Is that legal?

  • Yes. Our attorneys have verified this.
  • Rep Brian M: 1090 Worthington is an icon in the neighborhood, and many people are worried about the preservation of the house itself.
  • Q: What is put in place to preserve the historical character of the house, both interior and exterior?

  • We were given a list of the vendors who have been servicing that house in the past in terms of its upkeep, and we will continue to use those vendors on a regular basis to maintain the house.
Questions/Comments from the Audience
  • Ed Z (Ingersoll Grove): Noted that he has worked for 21 years in the mental health field, and works for MHA (Mental Health Association) at a group home. He spoke with Dr Cogriff during his recent visit to the neighbors, and he felt it was apparent that no research had been done on the neighborhood. Ed observed the following:
  • The easy availability of drugs and alcohol within walking distance of 1090 Worthington; as well as recent shootings in the neighborhood.
  • That Magazine Park is not a suitable place for recreational activities by individuals in recovery, as Dr Cosgriff had proposed, but instead is a known area of drug activity, and referred to by locals as “needle park”.
  • The program will ill-serve its clients by putting them in a high risk area.
  • Expressed considerable doubt that the program can succeed in this area, and will probably be short-lived.
  • Q: As a non-profit, MHA voluntarily pays a Pilot (payment in lieu of taxes) to the City for the city services it consumes. Will the Bridge Home be paying a Pilot?

  • Question referred.
  • Roberta K (Worthington Street) Roberta had also talked previously with Dr Cosgriff when he visited the neighborhood in late August. She made the following observations and posed a series of question for Ms Evans to take back to Mr White and Dr Cosgriff:
  • Letter from Bridge Home that was hand delivered to surrounding neighbors in late August was back-dated three weeks with a July date. Dr Cosgriff had no answer as why the letter had been back-dated.
  • Emphasized that the White Foundation is a grant making foundation and has never managed or run a residential program. This is their first venture. Q: Regarding the experience level of the staff in operating a residential facility, who if anyone, actually has previous experience working in a residential program for substance abuse recovery, and if so to what extent?
  • Q: The website for the Bridge Home contains numerous photos of young men illustrating a facility that does not yet function. Since this is your first venture, who are the persons pictured on the website that are made to look like clients of the Bridge home?
  • Chris White was the interim CEO of Phoenix House on the national level for one to two years. He did not run one of their group homes.
  • Regarding Dr. Cosgriff, no information provided thus far indicates that Dr Cosgriff has had any residential experience in managing a program for substance abuse recovery.
  • An ad placed on Mass Live for two live-in sober house managers said that experience was desirable, but it was not stipulated as to how much experience was required. Previous experience as a client in a program could count as a qualification. While free rent and utilities were listed as a benefit, no mention was made that these were paid positions.Q: Magazine Park is designed to be a playground for children, with play equipment and a basketball court. If the current drug issues can be resolved, it would be an appropriate park for children. Is Dr Cosgriff still intending to direct the 18-35 years old clients from the home to the park as a place for their recreation?
  • Q: Dr Cosgriff said he would not be providing therapy to the clients in the home. Who will be providing therapy to the clients?
  • City Counselor E. Henry Twiggs: (Westminster)
  • Q: Is there any reason why this program was not established in New York or Longmeadow?

  • The Whites are from Springfield. They knew there was a big problem in this area, and they wanted to help out the community they were born and raised in.
    • Q: Will the people who will be clients be coming from Springfield?

  • Ms Evans said they did not discriminate about where clients come from, and they do not know where they will be coming from. When asked about a waiting list, she said that was private information and she would refer the question to Mr White.
    • Q: Has anyone associated with this program made contact with Springfield City Hall?

  • Ms Evans did not know if the organization or attorneys had done so.
  • President Kroll confirmed that no one from the City had been contacted thus far, which was one of the reasons that elected and City officials had been asked to attend the meeting, and would address questions in the next segment of the meeting.

  • Unidentified Audience Members: 
  • Q: What happens when someone is discharged from the house for relapsing or breaking the rules?

  • If they relapse or break the rules, they are asked to pack their things and leave. The program will provide transportation to a treatment program if that is what they choose. Worst case scenario, the program can have them escorted off the property by the police.
    • Q: When people relapse, one of the first things they need is money and they frequently turn to stealing. Neighborhood residents have experienced a lot of petty theft for this reason. How do you protect the neighbors and their property?

  • Will refer question
  • Todd O (Vassar ): Wait times for police response can be lengthy.
  • Q: If a situation with a client escalates to the point of needing the police, what is your emergency plan while you wait for them to arrive?

  • None in place. Will refer question.
  • Gary (Worthington): Gary observed that neighborhood residents are understandably distrustful since Mr White initially represented himself to the sellers as an individual who was buying the house to live in as a residence, and then waited until the closing to disclose the fact that the Bridge Home was the actual buyer.
  • Q: How does a residential home suddenly get turned into a facility hanging out a shingle without any of the normal processes one would expect from a professional business, i.e. environmental assessment, and evaluation of zoning considerations, etc? How will this facility physically handle such a large number of people, relative to parking and other operational considerations?
    • Will refer question.
    • Q: If there is no therapy being provided by Dr Cosgriff, how are you serving these people?

  • Lists of therapists and other caregivers are being compiled that residents will be able to choose from to meet their needs, and the home will help arrange appointments and transportation if necessary.
  • Ray J (Ingersoll Grove): Recounted his own conversation with Dr Cosgriff, and Dr Cosgriff’s observation to him that the home would be good for the neighborhood. He apprised Dr Cosgriff of the oversaturation of these program facilities in McKnight of which he seemed unaware. Observed that there appeared to be little concern over the impact to the neighborhood and the people who live here; and that Dr Cosgriff let him know that with the Dover amendment protection, there was nothing the neighborhood could do about it.
  • Ray urged City representatives and elected officials present to vigorously address the problems being created in neighborhoods like McKnight with the proliferation of these types of programs all claiming Dover immunity.
  • The process needs to be slowed down, and our officials need to hold these programs accountable and exercise greater scrutiny as they move through City processes.
  • He believes this group home can be stopped as was the Sheriff’s facility in the North End and a program over in Atwater.

  • Jesse L (Westminster): Reconfirmed with Ms Evans that the home is a non-profit facility with private pay clients; providing housing but not therapy or treatment.
  • Q: What exactly is the educational component that you will be providing to your clients? What does that look like on a daily basis?

  • Clients will go to school or work during the day. When they come home, Dr Cosgriff will be working with them on their recovery plan, making sure they are getting to all of their appointments and whatever else they need to sustain their recovery.
  • Jesse observed that Mr Jordan [Ray] was right about the fact that these types of programs were going to keep coming and coming, and pointed out that this was yet another neighborhood meeting about another “educational” program trying to insert itself into an already over-saturated neighborhood.
  • He noted that legislative efforts are being made in both the State Senate and House to reform some of the sections of the Dover amendment, and that this ongoing problem was not going to be solved without a fundamental change of law. He urged elected officials present to move this legislation forward urgently and aggressively.
Part III—Comments from City Representatives & Elected Officials

Denise Jordan, Chief of Staff for Mayor Sarno: 
  • Noted that the City has the same problem that faces the neighborhood—the Dover ties their hands and limits what they are able to do, and they are also looking to State elected officials for help in solving these problems.
  • The Sheriff’s decision to back out of the proposed facility on Bowdoin Street a few years ago, and their recent decision not to locate a facility in the North End—happened only because they chose to back out due to the local reaction of the neighborhoods and not because they had to.
  • The City agrees that neighborhoods such a McKnight do need a moratorium with more and more facilities trying to locate here; but there is little the City can do until the Dover amendment is changed.
  • The City, including the Mayor, was completely unaware of the proposed facility until they received a call from neighbors. The City contacted the attorney for the program, which appeared to prompt a flurry of promotional information being sent out to the media from the group. She said the Mayor was specifically concerned about whether Dr Cosgriff and his group had made any attempt to reach out to the neighborhood before launching their project.
  • State Representative Benjamin Swan, Sr:

  • Rep Swan observed that in listening to Ms Evans’ presentation and responses, it was difficult to sort out whether this facility is a school, a treatment center, a clinic, a rooming house, or a small hotel. If it is a clinic it needs a license or certification, if it is going to provide some sort of education, then the issue of accreditation needs addressed. If the program is not providing treatment, then it would appear it may simply be a boarding house. These questions cannot be resolved at an open meeting such as this, or an open house.
  • Officials from the group need to address these questions before the program can proceed to operate.
  • State Senator James Welch: 
  • Senator Welch expressed his chief concern over whether a search was done of the area by the group proposing to locate here. If that had been done, he believes it would have would have been apparent that this location was not optimal due to the oversaturation of similar programs.
  • When an organization fails to look at their overall impact on a neighborhood, he feels it raises the question of what their actual mission is and whether or not they are serving the broader interests or only their own.
  • Regarding the Dover amendment, the spirit of it is correct, however it can be used to skirt zoning regulations inappropriately, and in some cases to the actual detriment of a community. Legislation has been filed to form a commission to study how it can be improved and some of the loopholes closed; but this is a long-term process, and there are no immediate legal remedies on the local or state level to stop this particular group home.
  • City Councilor E. Henry Twiggs:
    • Councilor Twiggs strongly expressed that a lack of legal avenues did not prevent the neighborhood from standing up and letting the operators of the group know that they are not wanted here, for the many legitimate reasons already discussed. He encouraged the neighborhood to make a pan, and to stand up and make their opposition clear as was done in the North End. 
    • Steve Desilets, Code Enforcement Commissioner, City of Springfield:

  • The Bridge Home has not filed with the City to initiate a change of use for the property from residential to another use. Once they do the process will be as follows:
  • From a Zoning standpoint, the City will look at what the use is—whether or not it is appropriate to the zoning in the neighborhood, what type of program is it, and does it fall under the Dover amendment. The law department determines whether or not the Dover amendment applies and there is a lot of case law around the different uses that the law department uses as a standard to make a determination.
  • If the use is exempted from zoning by the Dover amendment, the role of Code Enforcement is to evaluate the nature of the use. There are many different types of group homes in the City, and different regulations apply to each one according to the activities that will be taking place and the type of occupants who will be living there, i.e. battered women, young kids, disabled children or adults, etc.
  • He has no information about the program other than what he has heard so far in the meeting. The house may require fire alarms or sprinkler system, handicapped accessibility, noise restrictions may apply and off-street parking may be an issue. These are all elements of the Code review once the organization submits its proposal. Before this review can begin, however, the Planning Department must perform a tier 1 site plan review.
  • Phil Dromey, Deputy Director of Planning, City of Springfield:

  • Prior to 2013, there was no standard process in place in the City ordinances to evaluate organizations seeking Dover amendment protection. Since 2013, an organization must submit an application to the Planning Department which includes documentation that demonstrates that they qualify for that use—articles of organization, bylaws, licenses, etc. Once the Planning department receives the information, Planning sends it to the Law department, who will make a ruling and send it back.
  • If this particular program is not exempted under the Dover amendment, the house can only continue to be used a single family residence because of the zoning in McKnight.
  • If it is approved, then the program can open once the Code review is completed and all the regulations required under Code are met, as previously discussed. Code will look at their use, their floor plans, the type and number of occupants, parking, etc.
  • Until the entire process is complete, the program cannot open and bring in clients. The time line is possibly four to six weeks for the application and review processes, plus any additional time it takes to comply with regulations in order to get a certificate of occupancy.
  • Mr Dromey was asked if the daycare facility located next to 1090 Worthington would have any influence on the law department’s determination. He said that the Dover amendment did not take surrounding circumstances into account, nor does it consider the density of the types of programs which are operating.
Final Discussion/Comments 

  • Repeated skepticism expressed about the legitimacy of the program’s educational component.
  • Serious doubt expressed about the professional competency of the staff, as it is being portrayed, to handle a large group of individuals at such high risk—from the standpoint of actually serving their clients, and also protecting the interests and safety of neighbors and families who live in close proximity to the facility.
  • Serious doubt expressed about the lack of actual experience of the staff in running a residential program, and the absence of any proven operating model being utilized.
    • Repeated anecdotes offered about the difference between what programs promise will be happening, and what actually does happen when these programs and houses open in the neighborhood. Concerns expressed about the lack of oversight from local and state agencies, and what these programs frequently deteriorate into once they are up and running. A local EMT recounted first-hand experience with group homes in the area.
    • Numerous anecdotes offered about the real impacts on the quality of life for homeowners and families in the neighborhood due to the concentration of group homes in McKnight.
    • Repeated concerns expressed by those who have made significant investments in their own property, who see their property values fall as more and more group homes move into the neighborhood.

  • Two group home operators who run other sober houses in McKnight praised Dr Cosgriff, and were supportive of the Bridge Home opening here. 8:30 pm: Meeting Adjourned. (BM moved) to adjourn; (PS seconded); (WK called the question); Motion unanimous.Submitted for approval by Elizabeth Lederman, Administrative Staff, 09/13/16