Kevin Russell was released from a Maine prison on Oct. 1 after serving 16 months for operating a methamphetamine lab.
The 46-year-old wanted to return to the Bangor area to be close to his teenage daughter but knew he’d need support to stay off drugs. Two weeks ago, Russell moved into the Fresh Start Sober Living House on Ohio Street in Bangor.
On Friday, Russell moved across town to 155 Warren St., the city’s newest sober living house. It is one of about 17 sober homes in Greater Bangor, and the latest residence to open in response to an opioid crisis that killed 354 Mainers last year.
The former two-story apartment building is the third house in 13 months to be purchased by Scott Pardy, 63, of Bangor as a home for men in recovery. The first house at 87 Ohio St. opened in October 2018. Two months ago, Pardy bought a home at 185 Center St. in Brewer for less than market value. On Friday, he closed on the Warren Street property.
To live at the house, the men must be in recovery, pass drug tests, be employed or seeking employment, attend recovery meetings, counseling sessions or both, and pay $125 a week for rent. They may be on medication-assisted treatment taking methadone or Suboxone to reduce opioid cravings.
The houses are subject to municipal ordinances, but they are not regulated by the state. Pardy hopes that by the end of the year at least one of the homes will be certified as meeting national standards and eligible to receive state rental subsidies. In July, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill that allocated up to $2 million to assist people seeking to live in certified recovery houses.
The Bangor locations can house seven men each while the Brewer home can accommodate five. Each house in on the bus line and close to services since most residents do not have cars.
“When I bought 87 Ohio St., I didn’t know how huge the need is,” Pardy said Friday. “We have 40 to 50 pending applications and the phone rings all the time.”
Pardy, who is in long-term recovery, said that he became aware of how difficult it was for men to find housing and remain sober when they are released from prison by volunteering at the Penobscot County Jail and the Charleston prison. People often return to their home communities and relapse because they spend time with people with whom they used to drink or use drugs. He’s used part of his retirement as down payments on the Bangor houses and financed the rest of the purchase prices with bank loans.
Russell, who had been incarcerated before his most recent conviction, said Friday that it has helped him “to be surrounded by like-minded people” in a sober setting.
“I sometimes ask someone to walk with me to the store or around town because I know I could run into people I used to use with,” he said. “I got out this time and just decided I’m done with that lifestyle.”
Russell said that five years ago his brother died of an overdose and because of his own drug use, his family “had given up” on him.
“When I got out, I just decided that it’s time [to get sober] or I’m going to be dead or not have any of my loved ones in my life — not my daughter, not my mother, not my father,” he said.
Most men live at a Fresh Start Sober Living House between three and six months before moving into their own apartments, according to Pardy. About 25 percent are asked to leave due to a relapse or behavioral issues.
Parday paid $150,000 for the Ohio Street property. A former boarding house, it was infested with feral cats and rabbits when he went through it in summer 2018. The Warren Street house, which has a kitchen on each floor and four bathrooms, was in much better shape. Pardy said he paid $135,000 for it.
Pardy’s goal is to open a dozen more sober homes over the next five years between Waterville and Dover-Foxcroft.