James McBride (from left), who manages a Fresh Start Sober Living home, chats with Michael and Jamie Beck on Tuesday during a tour of the organization's 13th house located on Highland Avenue. Credit: Judy Harrison / BDN

After receiving nearly $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, the newest Fresh Start Sober Living home in Bangor opened its doors Tuesday to show how the organization has benefited from the investment.

Penobscot County commissioners and Bangor city councilors toured the home at 31 Highland Ave., the 13th sober house that founder Scott Pardy has opened in the past five years in the Bangor area. Two of the homes house women and the rest are for men. The organization now has 101 beds available for men and women in recovery, with more than 100 people still on Fresh Start’s waiting list.

In December, Penobscot County awarded $600,000 in funds to the organization to pay down debt on the homes. It turned out that wasn’t allowed under the ARPA guidelines but purchasing a home was.

So, the organization purchased the Highland Avenue house in February for $420,000 in cash. The brick home, built in 1837, has 12 beds — four double and four single rooms, 4½ baths, a modern kitchen and pantry.

The City Council also gave Fresh Start nearly $400,000. It is using $10,000 to provide Maine Association of Recovery Residences certification training for house managers, $50,000 to purchase a vehicle for required house maintenance and $336,100 for energy efficiency building upgrades, including new boilers for two homes and new windows for others, according to Pardy.

The Highland Avenue facility is the first sober living home to open in Penobscot County thanks to ARPA funding. Thanks to the investment, it is the first of Pardy’s 13 sober homes that does not have a mortgage, and Pardy said it kept the organization’s debt from rising. It also allowed rent to remain at $165 per week per resident despite the recent rise in the cost of utilities. The average stay at a sober living home is 117 days, Pardy said.

ames Rickrode (left), general manager for Fresh Start Sober Living Homes chats with Jenifer Salamino, president of SaVida Health, in the kitchen of the group’s 13th sober living home in Greater Bangor during an open house on Tuesday. Credit: Judy Harrison / BDN

Pardy said Tuesday that he closed on the house Feb. 1 and men began moving in on Feb. 8.

Bangor’s newest city councilor, Joe Leonard, who was elected in June to replace the late Sarah Dubay, said the city needs more solutions for people battling substance use disorder than are currently available.

“A model like this is what we need to focus on in treating substance use disorder,” Leonard said Tuesday while he chatted with house residents. “We need to keep investing in strategies that work like this one.”

Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci agreed, calling Pardy’s work “grassroots level” problem solving.

Pardy, 66, of Bangor now works all but one day a week managing the organization. That day he works at the local heating and plumbing supply firm where he’s been employed for years.

Jeremiah Sands, 23, of Falmouth sought out a sober home far from his hometown and childhood friends.

“I have a 4½-year-old son, so I need to get my life together for him,” Sands said Tuesday. “This home has given me structure, and I’m able to continue my recovery and keep things in a positive way.”

Zachary Day, 30, of Lincoln came to the house from the Penobscot County Jail, which is how many residents first arrive at sober living houses. He said that jail employees recommended he apply.

“Just having people around who are also in recovery helps the other people who live here stay sober and move forward with things,” Day said.

Sands and Day both work in Bangor.

The first Fresh Start home, located at 87 Ohio St., opened its doors in October 2018 to men in recovery who need to live in a sober and supportive environment. Pardy paid $150,000 for the vacant property, a former boarding house. It was infested with feral cats and rabbits when he first walked through it.

Other homes have been in better condition but few have been what Pardy called “turnkey” and ready for residents to move in as the Highland Avenue home was.

Bangor City Councilor Joseph Leonard leaves the newest Fresh Start Sober Living home on Highland Avenue after touring the house paid for with American Rescue Plan Act money awarded by Penobscot County. Leonard said that he supports similar funding from the city’s ARPA funds. Credit: Judy Harrison / BDN

One of Fresh Start’s supporters is Rep. Amy Roeder, D-Bangor, who lives next door to one of the group’s homes on Blackstone Street.

“My Fresh Start neighbors quickly became valuable and beloved additions to our community,” she said. “I, and many others on our street, have benefited from their neighborliness — from help shoveling out driveways to friendly greetings to the lovely, resident-curated landscaping.”

She also said that there have been no drawbacks to living next door to a sober house.

“I have heard some Bangor residents express trepidation when a sober living house moves into their neighborhoods, but those fears have yet to be realized, to my knowledge,” she said. “Fresh Start is helping our community members dealing with substance use disorder but more than that, their residents help their neighborhoods flourish.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Michael Beck in a photo caption. It has been updated.