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Council hears concerns, explanations about treatment facility

Best Care officials apologize for lack of notice to standing-room-only crowd packed into City Hall
News Editor
   A standing-room-only crowd packed the City Hall chambers Feb. 12 seeking an explanation as to why a substance-abuse treatment facility was opening near Madras Elementary School.
   What the concerned individuals received was an apology and an assurance from BestCare officials that the residential facility would be a good neighbor.
   "I do need to apologize to the neighborhood on how we came in there," said BestCare Executive Director Rick Treleaven, who invited the attendees to a forum on the facility at 7 p.m. this Thursday at Madras Elementary School.
   BestCare, a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, is renovating a home at 236 S.E. D St., which is kitty-corner from the school, to operate as a treatment facility for up to 15 recovering substance abusers. It has been designated to serve Hispanic clientele.
   City officials themselves had limited knowledge of the facility's arrival before last Tuesday's regular City Council meeting. Mayor Rick Allen told the gathering he had only learned of BestCare's intentions the previous Monday.
   Treleaven presented a laundry list of services BestCare would be providing its clients. Recovering substance abusers would arrive clean and sober and stay between three and five weeks. They would not be allowed to come and go as they pleased, Treleaven said, and would always stay within the 6-foot fence surrounding the property.
   "Our goal is to be the quietest neighbor on the block," Treleaven said. "We've succeeded in doing that in Redmond and we want to do that here."
   Clients seeking services at BestCare's similar facility in Redmond often wait from four to six months to gain entry, he said. They often are receiving outpatient counseling when they are referred to residential treatment, Treleaven said. BestCare won't be providing a detox center.
   Police Chief Enes Smith chimed in, saying he had done his own research on BestCare's facility in Redmond and found it had no problems.
   Still, several individuals living near the facility expressed their dismay with its location and the manner in which it arrived in the neighborhood.
   Lisa Abel told BestCare officials that if they were concerned about their reputation, they would have been less discreet.
   "You're going to need to change the image you've already created," Abel said.
   Angela Watson told the City Council she'd no longer feel comfortable letting her three children, who attend Madras Elementary, walk to school.
   "I don't want to explain to a 5-year-old, `These are the drug addicts. Stay away from there,'" Watson said.
   But many in attendance voiced support of the facility.
   Tom McKee, executive director of the Prineville-based Rimrock Trails Adolescent Treatment Services, told the concerned audience that living next to a drug and alcohol treatment center is safer than living next to "the rental place down the street."
   Sandy Castro, a Madras resident who credited BestCare for helping her get clean and sober, expressed similar sentiments: "The safest people are in drug treatment centers. They are supervised all the time. People are there to get help because they want to stop drinking."
   Former Madras Mayor Ted Veramonte said he had had a firsthand experience with "nimbyism" -- a play on the infamous acronym "not in my back yard" -- when a halfway house once moved into his neighborhood. He said citizens needed to be less fearful of the facility.
   "BestCare moving into a neighborhood requires due diligence," Veramonte said.
   One man attending the meeting simply wanted to know whether BestCare's plans were a "done deal."
   The answer wasn't entirely well received.
   Interim City Planning Director Chris Bedsaul approved the application a month ago. Under law, Bedsaul said, residential treatment facilities require no notification to neighbors, because they are permitted outright.
   "The Legislature has directed cities to provide these facilities in residential zones," Bedsaul said.
   Treleaven said BestCare had looked at a secluded site off Loucks Road but the county's zoning ordinances would not have permitted it. The state-granted funding required that the facility begin treating patients by March 1, he said, and BestCare officials were scrambling to find a site.
   City Councilor Bob Sjolund said he believed people were more angry that they weren't notified than they were upset that the facility would be in their neighborhood or near the school.
   "We're the guards at the gate for the city," Sjolund said. "And for this to slip in this quick, this fast, that upsets me too."
   Councilor Frank Morton said he felt nearby residents' anxiety would diminish over time.
   "I think once it's up and running and people have lived with it for a month there'll be a lot of changed attitudes," Morton said. "It'll be the most drug-free building in Madras."