A group home for recovering alcoholic women that Alexandria proposes to open in Strawberry Hills has run into opposition from residents of the West End neighborhood.
A public hearing scheduled for Saturday's City Council meeting is expected to draw a number of residents from the Strawberry Hills subdivision, where the proposed group home at 116 North Grayson St. would be located.
Neighbors fighting the introduction of a group home into their community have become a familiar sight at City Council meetings in Alexandria, a city where 15 such private and public homes are located.
Maurice Ronayne, whose house is seven feet from the back yard of the proposed group home, said he and his wife, who is handicapped, would be robbed of their privacy if five people, and potentially nine after its first year of operation, were sitting out in their back yard. Six other Alexandria group homes, which Ronayne visited, are located much farther away from nearby residences.
"I'm not too sure what the city can do with it once they own the house. Maybe they can put in a drug rehabilitation center," said Willie B. Feddon, who has lived on North Grayson Street with her husband, Thomas, for 30 years.
Group homes for recovering alcoholic men, battered women, former criminals, the mentally retarded and the severely mentally ill have opened in Alexandria during the past 11 years. And since 1977, when one West End neighborhood sued the city and lost a bid to stop New Hope, a home for the severely mentally ill, to this past summer, when neighbors pooled their money to buy a house that the city wanted for the mentally ill, the start-up of a group home immediately has raised a local furor.
But none of the group homes operated under the city's auspices have folded or run into neighborhood opposition once the homes got established, city officials said.
"It's with some pride that I say that we've done a good job in all the . . . neighborhoods. We're interested in being good neighbors -- in fitting into the fabric of the neighborhood," said Richard Leibach, chairman of the Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services Board, a citizens advisory committee.
"Our philosophy is that these are residents who benefit from being a part of the community. Many have been institutionalized and are able to work. They can participate in recreation activities. They're capable of living in the community," Leibach said.
The Del Ray neighborhood considers itself an area that has successfully absorbed its share of the city's group homes -- eight in all -- including homes for former women criminals, mentally retarded adults, recovering alcoholic men, and juvenile homes for boys and girls.
"When it's run by a city agency or other qualified counselor, it is well run," said Mike Reiser, president of the Del Ray Citizens Association.
"To the best of my knowledge, there's never been any problems with residents or the lowering of property values," Reiser said.
Reiser admitted that the neighborhood was up in arms each time a group house was proposed, but changed as residents were given assurances about the programs being well operated.
At its last meeting, the 200-member citizens group voted to give $50 to each of the group houses in a show of support for them. They presented the money to group home members at a neighborhood Christmas party in the Del Ray Methodist Church on Monday.
"What I think is special about Del Ray is that people are concerned about the city. If we don't like something we may stamp and holler, but we don't make life difficult for people. We have a very cohesive neighborhood atmosphere," Reiser said.
"Although there's been fierce neighborhood opposition to all group homes, there's never been a case where any neighbors oppose when the city came back to get the special-use permit renewed," said Christine Yeannakis, city official in the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation & Substance Abuse, in charge of setting up the house for recovering alcoholic women.
The city's plans for the four-bedroom North Grayson Street house call for five recovering alcoholic women to live there for a maximum of 18 months, during which time they will hold outside day jobs and participate in Alcoholics Anonymous as well as the city's treatment program for alcoholism. A house counselor, to be paid between $15,000 and $16,000, will live with the women from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. during weekdays and 24 hours a day on weekends.
"In our group home the women will live like a family. They'll chip in on house chores and eat meals together," Yeannakis said.
The city will contract for the operation of the home with a private, nonprofit corporation called Sheltered Homes of Alexandria Inc., which already is under contract with the city to run four homes and one apartment for mentally retarded residents.
The city has long recognized the need to aid alcoholic women making a transition to a more normal life, Yeannakis said. In June, City Council appropriated $40,000 for operation of the women's home.
A woman can leave the group home when she can support herself financially and is emotionally and psychologically ready to leave, Yeannakis said.