A recovery center for drug and alcohol addicts is looking for a new home after a zoning snafu forced them to leave a west Athens compound.
About two dozen residents at Serenity River Residence Center packed up Monday after discovering that the nonprofit group lacked a necessary permit to operate a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.
Residents said they planned to move in with members of Serenity River's board of directors or to rented houses elsewhere in Athens, pledging to stick together to beat addiction using the group's tough-love approach.
"We're not kin, but I consider this my family," said Roger Strickland Jr., who has lived at the center for about a month.
After applying to Athens-Clarke County for a permit to build a new dining hall, founder Phil Redden said he learned Friday that Serenity River would have to leave the property because the center was operating illegally.
Rehab centers, halfway houses and other such treatment facilities need a special-use permit from the Athens-Clarke Commission to open, and Serenity River never applied for one, county planner Lara Mathes said.
The nonprofit officially is suspending its operations, but the former residents will continue to meet and participate in the recovery program as they look for funding to find a permanent new home, Redden said.
Although the tight-knit group is separating, the move could be a "blessing in disguise" by allowing them to buy a new and permanent home and acquire the necessary permit, Redden said.
"To help thousands of people over the years, we need a place with a little more privacy, and we need to make it a little nicer," he said.
Redden will raise money to buy property for a larger treatment center that could house 40 people, and is seeking donations, he said. His goal is to open and begin accepting new residents in six months, he said.
"I'm sending up flares to see if anyone in Athens can do anything to help this thing that works survive," he said.
Redden rented two houses and a loft, formerly home to drug users, on five acres off Tallassee Road in July to open the treatment center. During time off from his full-time job as a crane operator, the former alcoholic collected used needles and beer cans and repaired the run-down property.
The six- to 12-month program uses Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous principles, frequent meetings, manual labor and plenty of straight talk to convince addicts to stop drinking and using drugs. Several residents said it's the only recovery program that's ever worked for them, and they were not discouraged by the recent setback.
"I want to stick around and help them build the new facility and help others get sober," Clemoth Church Jr. said.
Serenity River can be contacted at (706) 549-2667.
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 031108