Mike Garrett, minister at Meridian Baptist Church, opened Wednesday’s prayer meeting with a reading from Matthew. It was the admonition from Jesus telling his disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and take in strangers in need of a home.
But, this past Wednesday’s meeting was not a regular meeting for the congregation. After the brief service, a community meeting began on a proposed transitional living home that may be housed in the former school building the church owns. Objections from neighbors included concerns about safety — the safety of their children and the safety of the women in the facility — and the question of if the community about eight miles from downtown Crossville was a suitable location for such a facility.
“Many of us have friends or family affected by drug addiction. We know the problems that come with that. I’m not saying you don’t have a just cause,” said Randall Hayes, who lives near the building. “But, you’re placing a burden on this community. I’m within walking distance. When they decide to leave, they’re coming to my house.”
He expressed concern about allowing his daughter to play outside with recovering addicts living so close by.
“The reason people are outraged is people are telling us what we need in our community, and they don’t even live here,” he added.
Sharon Naismith said she came to the meeting to support the project.
“I’m hearing a lot of ‘not in my back yard,’” she said. “But, if not in our back yard, where?”
Bridges of the Upper Cumberland is a new organization looking to provide a transitional home for women who have completed alcohol and drug addiction treatment and want to stay sober and become self-sufficient. However, many times women leaving addiction treatment face barriers to continuing their sobriety when they return home. That’s where Bridges of UC would step in.
A woman in the audience shared how important a facility such as the one being proposed was to someone working to stay sober after completing a treatment program.
“When you leave treatment, you leave that structured organization,” she said, adding she had 11 years clean and sober. “It’s overwhelming at first. Some leave and they don’t know how to live sober. People who grew up here, they’re scared to come home. They’re trying as hard as they can. They would give their heart, soul and life just to stay clean.”
Though not a resident of the Meridian community, the woman said she would support such a service and believed it would be a great benefit to the community.
Women in the home would be required to get a job and take steps to become self-sufficient. The home would provide structure and 24-hour watch care, so that someone was always with the women, but security would consist of an alarm system.
Some participants would be completing requirements of Cumberland County’s Drug Court and would meet with the local judge twice a month. All residents would commit to being drug and alcohol free, with Garrett saying he had been assured regular drug testing would be required.
Lynda Loftis, member of the board of directors, said, “The women who would be coming here want to get better and learn how to live.”
Women would have access to job skills training, counseling, parenting classes and other services needed, determined on a case-by-case basis. Those who began working would be asked to pay rent to help sustain the facility and to build responsibility. All women would be responsible for upkeep of the facility and have assigned chores.
Living in the transitional housing is voluntary, and the women could leave at any time. However, if they left, they would not be allowed to return. Bridges of the Upper Cumberland would serve six to 12 women, with no plans for men to ever be admitted, Garrett said. It would not serve as a treatment facility, as those living there would have to have completed addiction treatment and be actively in recovery. It would also not be an alternative to jail.
Vikie Williams, board treasurer, is herself a product of transitional housing after she completed treatment for drug addiction. At eight year’s sober, she shared she had recently purchased her own home, thanks in part to the foundation she was able to lay for her new life after leaving treatment. When asked if she would want the women to be served by the facility living in her back yard, she responded, “I’d bring them in to my home.”
Though the board of the organization, which is beginning the process to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit, formed just a week prior to the community meeting, the need for such a facility and discussions of a steering committee have been ongoing for several months, members said. However, Vice Chair Carolyn Scott noted everything was still in preliminary stages.
“Someone else took the initiative to invite the community,” said Scott. “We weren’t ready for this meeting. Nothing has been decided and nothing has been finalized. Bridges has not made any decisions. But we’re trying to respond to your questions.”
The community meeting wasn’t called by Bridges of the Upper Cumberland or the church, but an anonymous organizer in the community who placed flyers in neighbors’ doors telling of the proposal and inviting the community to the Wednesday meeting. Garrett and other members of the board said they felt it was important to bring information to the meeting, though they all said everything was still in the developmental stages.
Many at the meeting spoke of fears for the safety of families and property in the area, with a group home down the street where residents could leave at will. There were questions of how long it might take law enforcement to respond should there be an issue and the possibility of rising crime rates and falling home values.
Others questioned how the group planned to protect the women from former boyfriends or husbands who might come to the area to rekindle past relationships or to commit violence. The board said this would not be a suitable facility for any woman with a situation of domestic violence and those women would not be accepted.
Many agreed the goals of the group were admirable, but they questioned placing the facility in such a rural area.
“You want to help these people. That’s great,” said Rita Martin, a resident of the community. “But you’re changing our lives.”
Garrett asked, “What are you scared of?”
He noted there was already crime in the community as well as drug use, adding he had broken up several drug deals taking place in the parking lot of the school and the church every few months or so.
“If you think we don’t have these problems here, you’re not paying attention,” Garrett said.
The building has been sitting idle for about five years and has been on the market all that time. Garrett said he was approached about possibly using the facility for this purpose and was put in contact with the steering committee. Garrett is serving as chairman of the board of directors.
Some in the audience questioned if Garrett would personally benefit from a lease or purchase of the building. Garrett said he would not personally benefit. At best, he said,, the church may recoup its expenses from originally building the school facility, but the initial lease/purchase payment would be $1.
Garrett said the church’s active membership, about 150 members, would vote on the proposal. That vote had been set for Sunday, but at the Wednesday meeting, he agreed to wait at least 60 days before the church holds a vote. Plans are to hold a second community meeting before that time.
In the meantime, Bridges of the Upper Cumberland is open to suggestions on other possible locations for the facility and any other assistance or suggestions for how to make such a facility a success. The group meets every Wednesday. Email bridgesTLC@gmail.com for more information and to be notified of meeting time and locations.