W-B officials satisfied home not being used as a ‘sober house’
Officials recently met with the pastors running a ministry program out of a city home.
WILKES-BARRE — City officials and residents of the Parsons section are satisfied that a controversial “sober house” is not being operated in the neighborhood. But they plan to keep an eye on it.
Rick Voelker, who lives near the home at 224 Austin Ave., told council members at a meeting last week that he, his wife, another neighborhood couple and several city officials met on March 22 with the two pastors overseeing a program at the house.
Voelker said the Rev. Wayne Nichol, of the adjacent Parsons Baptist Church, and the Rev. Joe Roach, of First Primitive Methodist Church of Nanticoke, told them four men were living at the home as part of “a Christian ministry program.”
“We asked, ‘What program?’ Rev. Nichol and Rev. Roach both said, ‘It does not have a name, it’s just something we do on our own,’” Voelker said.
Voelker said the pastors assured them that no one in the house has a criminal background or record, “no one is an alcoholic and no none has or had a drug problem.”
“The pastors also assured us that the only money the church is making is $500 a month that all four men pay together,” he said.
Neighborhood residents first brought their concerns to Councilman Bill Barrett, who represents that section of the city, and then the rest of city council in early February when they first noticed that several people were living in the house they believed was owned by the church.
Luzerne County assessment records list Welsh Baptist Church of Laurel Run as the property owner. The billing address for the property is the same as the physical address of the home. It is not listed as a tax-exempt property.
Residents and Barrett suspected the property was being operated as either a forprofit sober house or halfway house in violation of local zoning laws.
Municipal officials across the state have complained about numerous unregulated sober houses — also called recovery houses — opening up in residential neighborhoods over the past few years in response to the opioid epidemic plaguing the nation and an ever-growing number of recovering addicts.
City Administrator Ted Wampole said it appears the house is not in violation of any local zoning ordinances, which limit the number of residents who are not family members to four per residence.
Wampole believes a lack of communication between church officials and neighborhood residents resulted in rumors and “misinformation.”
“We agree there had to be better communication between the church and the residents,” Wampole said. “Communication here is the key.”
Neither Nichol nor Roach could be reached for comment Monday.
Voelker said the pastors told the residents and city officials that the house will “shut down” when the four men living there finish the program and get back on their feet.
Also, there will be “no more homes of this type going up in the Parsons neighborhood,” Voelker said he was told.
Both pastors “called this a hostile neighborhood,” Voelker added. “We told them we’re not hostile, we just care about our neighborhood and the quality of life that we have had here for many years.”
Pastors of two area churches have been using a home at 224 Austin Ave. in Wilkes-barre as part of ‘a Christian ministry program.’