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Friendly Relations : Homeowner Fears Unrealized as Halfway House Enhances Property Values

September 10, 1987|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

Residents of the 2100 block of Magnolia Avenue in Long Beach were not overjoyed last year when told that an abandoned medical clinic on their street would be turned into a home for alcoholics and drug addicts.

"We were concerned about what kind of people would be brought in," recalled Cita Leal, block captain of the street's Neighborhood Watch program. "People were upset."

So they banded together and protested to City Hall. They held a passionate meeting at which concerned residents angrily confronted project planners with their fears that the neighborhood would be ruined.

But in the end they could do nothing to halt the project. And a year ago in August, Alternatives Place, a residential facility for chemically dependent men, opened against the wishes of the neighbors.

What has happened since then is an example of how attitudes can change. None of their fears have been realized, neighborhood residents say. The occupants of Alternatives Place have proved to be good neighbors. And, if anything, some former antagonists say, the treatment center has actually enhanced property values in its immediate vicinity.

"It's been nice," said Pat Rodgers, 38, a systems analyst who lives four doors from the facility. "I wish some of our other neighbors would be that nice."

Ted Nowell, Rodgers' next-door neighbor agreed. "I'd rather have (Alternatives) there than a condo."

Alternatives Place is a 12-bed residence run by Pacific Health Systems Inc., a company that since 1983 has been providing comprehensive in-patient treatment programs for alcoholics and drug abusers at Pacific Hospital in Long Beach.

But hospitalization for drug or alcohol dependency is expensive--about $6,000 for the 21 to 28 days usually required to complete the drying-out program, according to Ann McClanathan, president and chief executive officer of the company. So a few years ago the company decided to pioneer a way of lowering the cost by allowing some patients to live away from the hospital during their treatment. By housing patients in communal residences away from the hospital, they discovered, the cost of treatment could be cut almost in half--to $3,150 per average stay.

Today, Pacific Health Systems operates two such residences: Alternatives Place and a women's facility called Alternatives House in a nearby commercial area.

Formerly home of the old Westside Community Hospital and the Magnolia Family Planning Service, the site of Alternatives Place had been abandoned for several years by the time Pacific Health Systems bought it for $1 million. The one-acre property was overgrown with weeds and the two buildings on the site, pocked by broken windows, had become local eyesores that attracted vagrants, neighbors said.

The new owner spent $1 million remodeling, refurbishing, painting and constructing parking lots. Now, the men's residence is a tidy five-bedroom home, neatly decorated in brown and blue, smartly landscaped and equipped with a kitchen, bathrooms and quiet study areas as well as a comfortable living room equipped with a stereo, a VCR and television set.

Residents are awakened each morning at 6 a.m., said Rowdy Yates, a recovered alcoholic who is resident manager of the house. After a morning meditation and house meeting, he said, a van takes the patients to nearby Pacific Hospital. There they receive three meals a day and undergo a rigorous daily treatment schedule that keeps them busy until 9:30 p.m.

According to McClanathan, 60% to 65% of the Alternatives Place graduates--most of whom are voluntary participants referred by their employers or families--are still off drugs and alcohol one year after they complete the program based on the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Arthur Ungerleider, Pacific's medical director, puts the success rate more conservatively at 40% to 60%, which he says is consistent with that of other similar programs.

Administrators say they believe the intimate atmosphere of the home enhances treatment. "It duplicates reality more," said Colette Dearman, the company's director of program development. "They are in a home environment where they have to be accountable. They have to deal with the same kinds of things we have to deal with in the world."

But so far, problems with the previously suspicious neighbors is one thing they have not had to deal with.

Property Values Enhanced

Part of the reason, both sides agree, is that the patients simply are not around enough to cause any problems. But much of the rest of it, they say, is attributable to the good will inspired by the improvements the company has made to the property.

"The property values (in the immediate area) were hurt by the fact that the buildings were deteriorating and vacant," said Phil Spellens, a real estate agent who has done business in the area since 1974. "Anyone who would clean it up and make it look prosperous and used would certainly help the neighborhood, irrespective of what went in there."

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