SOS Recovery eyes new location in Hampton

HAMPTON — A new addiction recovery center could be coming to Route 1, its organizers saying the center would fill a void for peer-based recovery services in the Seacoast.

SOS Recovery Community Organization is planning to open a recovery center at the former location of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce near the Hampton Falls border if it can acquire certain grant money to start the operation. The center would offer non-medical services similar to SOS locations in Dover and Rochester, including coaching for people battling addiction and guidance for them to access more resources.

SOS Director John Burns said while Safe Harbor Recovery Center exists in Portsmouth, the corridor from Hampton and Epping lacks services that are easy to access despite many people battling addiction living in those towns.

“You do have Safe Harbor in Portsmouth. The southern side of the Seacoast is definitely different,” Burns said. “I think there’s a hole there and a need.”

Burns said he is waiting for $100,000 from the state’s opioid response money to pay for much of the operation’s startup, including costs for the lease, supplies and funding for two staff. He said those two workers will lead trained volunteers who are also in recovery in offering guidance to people fighting addiction.

SOS helps people develop life skills and find treatment options, as well as hosts substance-free activities like yoga and art classes. The facility will also offer free Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug used by first responders that can be purchased over the counter in local stores. The other locations see about 25 people visit on an average day, Burns said, many returning three to five times a week.

Burns said the grant money is not guaranteed but expected and said SOS signed an intent to lease the building. Burns is planning to meet with selectmen Monday night to talk about SOS’s operations.

Burns said SOS initially looked at opening a third location in Strafford County when he was asked by recovery coach Mark Lefebvre, based in Hampton Falls, to consider a spot in Exeter. That seemed practical, he said, not only for the region’s lack of services but for its proximity to Exeter Hospital with which he hopes SOS can work to train recovery coaches. A similar partnership exists between SOS and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. Exeter Hospital is planning to merge with the Massachusetts General Hospital system, which includes Wentworth-Douglass.

SOS needs no town approval to move into the location, but Burns said he wants to encourage public conversation about the center in hopes of quelling misunderstandings. He said two public forums, each attended by 30 to 50 people, showed strong support from residents, but one resident raised concern about potential negative impacts on the community.

The resident was reached but declined to comment. Burns said the concerns were related to increased criminal activity, the building’s proximity to schools and distribution of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan.

Hampton Police Chief Richard Sawyer said he has seen no evidence that having a recovery center in a community increases crime there. He also said having an operation that serves people in recovery does not bring a new population to Hampton, saying his department responds to drug-related calls in every section of town.

“People in recovery are amongst us now. They’re not segregated from the community,” Sawyer said. “These things are not limited to our socio-economic class. They transcend all of that.”

SOS met resistance when it moved its location into Rochester, residents creating a petition last summer with 64 signers asking their City Council to force SOS to relocate. The petition alleged there was an increase in illegal and undesirable activity in their neighborhood, but councilors rejected the petition and SOS called the letter defamatory and baseless. Rochester Police Chief Paul Toussaint has said the link between alleged illegal activity and the recovery enter is unfounded.

Burns said questions about a recovery center’s impact on a community raise legitimate concerns but that they are ultimately unfounded. He said he has a strong sense of support from other forum attendees, which included community leaders like Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce President John Nyhan and state Sen. Tom Sherman. Selectmen Chairman Rusty Bridle said he learned a lot about SOS by attending both public forums.

“I have gained a lot of knowledge and respect for SOS in the work they do,” Bridle said.