Chipley community members discuss unregulated halfway home

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Members of the Chipley community talked about a home in the area they say has been operating as an unofficial halfway home, which has included alleged drug addicts coming in and out the residence.

The matter was discussed during this month’s City Council meeting on May 14 after resident Holland Kent asked for the discussion to be placed on the agenda.

“A halfway house is a center for helping former drug addicts, former inmates, former psychiatric patients, or others to adjust in general society,” Kent said. “A professionally run halfway house can be a benefit to our community by providing treatment to our citizens who desperately need it. However, if they are not managed properly, our community will suffer. These private rehab centers taking individuals in the residence or home will not get the help they need.”

Law enforcement will be “repeatedly called” to the location “for whatever reason,” he said.

“Neighbors would notice this and be increasingly concerned for family, neighborhood, and property,” Kent said.

The location of the residence was not given during the meeting but was said to be in the Martin Woods area. 

“The solution would be to regulate these facilities to ensure they are being managed properly under state and city guidelines,” Kent said. “The very first interaction with code enforcement or police would find these residences are out of code. This would allow the City to take the necessary steps to shut it down. The City could direct these individuals to a permanent halfway house and receive the help they actually need.”

City Attorney Michelle Jordan said there is not a City ordinance currently in place pertaining to halfway homes.

“If one were operating in a single-family residence, that would be a violation of our comprehensive plan and our code,” Jordan said. “They have to have a business license.”

Depending on the type of the facility, they may have to have a state license, Jordan said.

She further said it would help if a halfway home ordinance were established.

“Seeing a household with people coming in and out of the garage, almost like they’re living in the garage, repeated law enforcement presence, neighbors asking neighbors,” Kent said of the conditions. “Just a lot of stress. It goes through periods where the individual who was there, whatever happens, they go back to wherever they were. There’s a period where it’s quiet and then it happens again.”

Martin Woods is a “quiet” and “close” community, he said.

“These places, they don’t advertise. They don’t put a sign out front. It just happens,” Kent continued. “Out of the goodness of people’s hearts, they take people in. Like I said, I’m not against it. It just needs to be run properly. Otherwise, it can get out of hand.”

Chipley Police Dept. Lt. Michael Richter said they have had issues with the residence over the years.

“We have tried to address it through traffic stops–of course, coming in, going out of the neighborhood,” Richter said. “We have personally paid visits to the home and spoke to individuals at the house. We tried to address it through code enforcement. What we have is an unfortunate situation like we do in many areas across the nation. You have someone who lives at the residence who just allows people to come and go as they please.”

The home is frequented by people “who are drug users,” Richter said.

“We have made arrests. We have arrested people there on the property,” Richter said. “As of a couple weeks ago, I had spoken to someone who lives in the neighborhood. They said it had been cleaned up after the arrest, almost like they were getting ready for code to come out and that they had not seen anybody there since we made that arrest. Things may have changed since then since this is a house that is routinely allowing people to come and go as they please.” 

Jordan said the City can use a state statute, “the most expensive remedy,” that would allow them to get a court order and subject the residence to contempt of court if criminal conduct continues.

The residence can also be forced to shut down activities if it’s found to annoy the community, she said. Someone has to be willing to sign a complaint that they have witnessed the behavior at the home, Jordan said. 

A City ordinance will be drafted by Jordan.