A Modesto drug and alcohol recovery home for women that wants to move into a bigger facility is facing stiff opposition from its potential new neighbors.
Nirvana Women of Hope has operated a 12-bed inpatient treatment center for eight years out of two small houses that sit on the same lot on Alice Street, in an older residential area near College Avenue. Nirvana wants to operate a 19-bed center out of a two-story, six-bedroom house in the 800 block of Maze Boulevard, across the street from Franklin School in west Modesto.
At a hearing last week before the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment, about a dozen neighbors of the Maze home spoke against the project.
They are concerned that the treatment center will hurt property values, that it will be a magnet for crime and drugs, and that the clients and their families will put the neighborhood at risk.
"I don't have any problems with them helping people, but I don't want it in my neighborhood," said Cris Brundage in an interview after the hearing.
Brundage has lived in his Pine-cone Drive home for 26 years. "This company (Nirvana) sounds like a good company, but I think they should take their business somewhere else."
Nirvana officials appeared before the zoning board because they need what is called a conditional use permit to operate the bigger facility. Nirvana does not need a city permit for its Alice Street facility.
Board members did not make a decision and continued the matter to their Dec. 20 meeting. Nirvana and the neighbors can appeal any decision to the City Council.
Meeting to state case
In the meantime, Nirvana and city officials will hold a meeting Nov. 28 to explain the project and answer the public's questions.
"I want to give them all the information on who we really are," said Dane Helding, executive director of Nirvana Drug and Alcohol Treatment Institute, which also operates two residential inpatient treatment centers for men and outpatient programs. "There are a lot of misconceptions of what we really do."
Twenty-five-year-old Cherish said she turned to Nirvana because she wants a normal life for herself and her infant daughter. Cherish, who declined to give her last name, entered the Alice Street facility in early August.
As of Friday, she had been sober 134 days, her longest stretch since she started using methamphetamine as an 11-year-old.
"I want to learn responsibility and independence," she said. "I've never really had that."
Another place to look for answers could be with Nirvana's Alice Street neighbors.
Five of them said Friday that Nirvana has been a solid neighbor. They said the women are quiet and often can be seen cutting the lawn, sweeping the porch and doing their other chores.
"I don't even know they are there," said Randy Mosher, who has lived two houses away from Nirvana for three years. "They are no problem at all."
The program director for Haven Women's Center has kind words for Nirvana. Janette Garcia has run domestic violence programs at treatment centers for 16 years and said Nirvana Women of Hope is by far the best she has worked with.
"They just stand out as the best, I think, in our county," Garcia said. "They really have an excellent program."
Nirvana is licensed by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. A department spokeswoman said there are no open or closed complaints against the treatment center.
But Modesto police officers have been called to the Alice Street facility 15 times since June 2011, said Lt. Rick Armendariz, a department spokesman. He said one call was for a theft, two were for threatening or harassing phone calls made to the facility, and the others were for verbal disputes.
Armendariz said the disputes appear to involve clients' boyfriends and husbands, who refused to leave when asked.
Police called over threats
Helding, Nirvana's executive director, said his agency called the police because it wants to ensure the safety of its clients. He said none of the calls involved clients or staff members arguing among themselves. He said the theft report was over the theft of registration tags from the facility's van.
Nirvana officials say they want to expand because they are the only agency in Stanislaus County and possibly in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and foothills that offers residential, inpatient drug and alcohol treatment for women.
The women typically stay at the Women of Hope facility for 60 days. Their days are defined by structure and routine: group therapy sessions, chores and being driven to and from 12-step recovery meetings.
They are regularly tested for drugs and alcohol. Nirvana removes women who test positive. The family members who visit on weekends also are drug-tested.
"We have zero tolerance," said Holly Diaz-Bach, program director for Nirvana Women of Hope.
Diaz-Bach said most of the Nirvana Women of Hope clients are referred to the program by the Stanislaus County Community Services Agency and Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.
Helding said his organization has an annual budget of about $1.2 million and serves about 1,000 people annually. He said most of its funding comes from government contracts, but it receives funding from insurance companies and patients who pay out of pocket for treatment.
The Nov. 28 meeting is at 7 p.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.