By JOHN T. WARD
Rumson officials failed in their attempt to get a court order forcing a group home for recovering addicts to be vacated. But they appear to have effectively gotten what they wanted:
an empty Oxford House.
Or have they?
Contrary to the impressions of town officials and some neighbors, “it’s not vacant,” according to George Kent, who manages the house, at 61 South Ward Avenue, for the nonprofit Oxford House.
If it’s not vacant, tid Oxford follow through on a purported plan to change the facility from all-male to one for women and children?
“All I can say is nothing’s changed,” Kent told redbankgreen last week. “There’s people living there.”
Mayor John Ekdahl told redbankgreen last week that the borough had been rejected recently in its request for a temporary injunction ordering the house vacated in the aftermath of two drug overdoses, including one that killed a 25-year-old man in October.
A request for a permanent injunction is still pending with state Superior Court Judge Patricia DelBueno Cleary, who denied the motion for a temporary order, Ekdahl said.
But, “as far as we know, the house has been vacant since the last issue,” when an unidentified male resident was treated by EMTs and taken to a hospital for an apparent drug overdose on December 17, prompting the borough’s legal action, he said.
Ekdahl said the town had not had any communication with Oxford house since then. Previously, “we were beginning to have a dialogue with them, but many of the things they were representing would happen didn’t, so I’m not sure it was all that productive a dialogue.”
One of those promises, he said, was that Oxford House would install a full-time supervisor, or proctor, to oversee the male residents of the house. But the proctor was not on scene when police Chief Scott Paterson arrived before dawn on December 17 in response to the second incident.
Paterson also noted the presence of a young woman who had apparently stayed overnight, in violation of Oxford House rules.
Kent declined to answer when asked if a proctor was living in the house now. “That’s stuff I don’t want to talk about,” he said.
On two recent visits in the past week, redbankgreen saw no cars in the driveway and saw no signs of life in or around the house, where many of the window shades were pulled down. Knocks on the door Sunday afternoon went unanswered.
Meanwhile, a new Oxford group home in Middletown appeared recently on the organization’s website. The house, listed in tax records as belonging to Frank Stavola, is located at 127 Hubbard Avenue, several hundred yards deep into the woods, bordered by the Swimming River and Poricy Brook. The River Plaza Elementary School is nearby.
The house is the second in the township. Another has been operating for a year on Center Avenue, according to the Oxford website.
The new facility – which is listed as being in Red Bank and is served by the Red Bank post office – was chartered December 15, 2013.
“There’s a demand, as you know,” Kent said. “There’s a serious problem going on out there. That’s our challenge, to find safe places for people to live while in recovery.”
Kent said there was “no connection” to the Rumson house.
For Rumson officials and residents of the West Park section of town in particular, the unannounced arrival of Oxford House in August was a source of friction. redbankgreen asked Kent if he had alerted Middletown about its plans to establish a second group home there.
“Everything’s always handled the same way,” he said. “We act as a family would. A family doesn’t necessarily tell the neighborhood that they’re moving in.
“We fly under the radar all the time,” he said.
Referring to the Rumson issues, Kent said, “this is a new experience for me, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.”