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Rumson Oxford House Neighbors Wait for Answer on Background Check Query

Area residents remain uneasy about the rehab home.

61 South Ward Ave., Oxford House (Photo: Monmouth/Ocean MLS)
61 South Ward Ave., Oxford House (Photo: Monmouth/Ocean MLS)

When it comes to the group of men who live at a Rumson Oxford House substance abuse rehab home, loving thy neighbor is not something a contingent of West Park residents is willing to do unconditionally.

Since the men set up house in the neighborhood at 61 South Ward Ave., complaints have been lodged. Then there was a death from an as-of-yet undetermined cause.

Residents have wanted answers since then as to what they could expect from their new neighbors in the future and how they could be better apprised of their habits and rules by which they live in recovery from addiction.

So, last week, an Oxford House regional manager, George Kent came to St. George's by the River Church, around the corner from the house at 61 South Ward Ave., to offer information and field questions about Oxford House, its rules and this home in particular.

Since then, "we have made some progress with most of the residents on clarifying the issues," said Mayor John Ekdahl, who could not attend the meeting, but is monitoring the situation. "The solutions are the difficult part."

Solutions were not offered at the meeting. The fact, Kent said in so many words, is that the facility is a legal one. And while a death or other circumstances may be deal breakers for those living in the house, it's between them, as with a family, and not for neighbors' discretion.

As for the possibility of disbandment of an Oxford House, he said it has only happened once, not in this state, and it was because the house used the name illegitimately and blatantly disregarded any Oxford charter.

Kent, along with resident representative Jim Sylvester and the house's recently appointed live-in supervisor Michael LaVecchia, moderated and fielded questions and responses. Sylvester reminded residents to be careful not to disparage or confuse assumption with fact.

There were a lot of questions, unfavorable comments and anger-fueled shout-outs. Residents did not offer names at the forum.

In the end, one of the top inquiries was that of the neighbors — feeling that Oxford House members should be held to strict standards to live in this area of Rumson — asking that Oxford staff have house residents submit to background checks, the results of which would be privy to police only.

Kent said that he would check into it. There has been no word yet on whether or not that idea would pass Oxford or legal muster.

At the forum, though, Kent reminded residents that the Oxford House residents are, by law, neighbors and residents of the borough, just like anyone else. Yes, he conceded, a high percentage (about 75) had been jailed.

However, many of those arrests, he said, were not for violent crimes, but rather, things like DWIs and more minor drug possession, charges that not just Oxford House residents have faced.

"I view these people as equals to everyone," Kent said. "So, I believe that everyone is equal of an opportunity," such as living in a Rumson neighborhood.

Being equals as residents, Kent asked residents who made the background check idea a priority if they would like to have to submit to a check when they or anyone else moves into the borough.

A couple of residents contended that in order to volunteer with children or teach, they, too, must submit to background checks, so it's only fair. Sylvester echoed that sentiment.

But such checks are administered to people functioning in public positions or ones that place them in the care of children. Residents do not have to submit to a background check to move this or any other town. Only convicted sex offenders must register with a municipality when moving in.

Residents also questioned the company Oxford residents keep and if they are allowed or screened. They cited "activity on the porch" they're uncomfortable with. "They're allowed (to have guests), but they must leave by curfew (if the resident is on 30-day probation)," Kent said. "This is their home, so they're allowed to have guests just like everybody else."

Kent added, though, that, as with any home, they're asked, as a matter of common courtesy, to not have more than a couple guests in the house at the same time.

Kent said that in the 38 years of Oxford House's existence nationally, the houses have run basically under the same charter guidelines — pre-admission interviews, tasking all with mandatory chores, getting a commitment of sobriety or face ousting, paying a fair share of rent, observations — and there has been no problem.

But this contingent of Rumson residents has a problem with how it's run, especially in light of the death. One woman, who said she had been in recovery for 27 years, said that she'd "never heard of anything like this" — having a home full of recovering addicts live unsupervised.

But, Kent said, LaVecchia is there now, because of the death issue, a questionable initial mix of residents and neighbors' lack of comfort. LaVecchia moved in at the end of October and the residential composition of the house has changed since the death. There were nine men living there. Now there are six, including LaVecchia.

"This is not the norm for us," Kent said, speaking of the West Park discomfort. "In my experience in New Jersey, this is a very unique situation for us."

Residents, saying that they thought the set-up of the house was sneaked into town, making them more uneasy, added that they wanted to know who signed the lease to rent this house in particular. The lease, he and Sylvester said, has nothing to do with the operation of the home.

"Let's not get too bogged down" with lease talk, Sylvester urged, at times stifling out-of-turn call-outs, questions and angry shout-outs.

Still holding the lease holder accountable, residents wanted to know who it was that signed it. "A volunteer from the Monmouth County area," Kent said. "These individuals are allowed to remain anonymous, so I'm going to respect that. If he wants to come forward, that's his choice. I'm not going to make that dec on his behalf."

Residents were still not happy with not knowing what type of addicts lived in the house nor were they comforted by the average relapse rate.

One cited the fact that the West Park section, in particular, was still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which put them "under a tremendous amount of stress as it is."

That, Kent said, "was never our intention at all."

"We have a lot of questions and they send a liaison who says, 'I have to ask someone else. The problem is still happening," one resident said.

Kent was not available as of press time for follow-up inquiries about the background checks asked for by residents.


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