BREWER, Maine — Several people from the area spoke passionately during Monday’s planning board meeting for and against a proposed outpatient counseling center on Center Street for clients with substance abuse and mental health problems.
Those against the proposed Higher Ground Services, at 235 Center St., say they are not opposed to the center opening, but they don’t want it across the street from a day care center and one block away from Brewer Middle School and State Street School.
The counseling center is now operating on South Main Street.
Those who spoke in favor of the outpatient counseling center say the region needs more places for people in crisis to turn.
“It gets really scary when you hear terms like paranoid schizophrenic and volatile,” said Jim LaPierre, a counselor and one of three friends who created limited liability corporation JCUBED and purchased the old VFW hall this summer. “If you don’t understand the terminology, things sound really scary.”
The center will not treat those under the influence of any intoxicants, sexual offenders, those in methadone treatment or clients who have been ordered by the courts into treatment, he said.
LaPierre, Joe Bowen and Jon Lounsberry, along with their wives, purchased the building in August and have spent the past couple of months renovating 4,800 square feet of the front portion of the building into seven counseling offices, and fixing up an apartment upstairs.
The plan is for JCUBED to lease the space to Higher Ground.
The planning board decided Monday to table the issue for the second month in a row to confer with the city’s attorney about issues raised during the two meetings. The board will hold a special meeting sometime in the next month to deal with the item, City Planner Linda Johns told those at the meeting.
Hampden resident Michael Johnston, a Maine State Police trooper whose daughter attends the day care across the street from the proposed counseling center, said he is worried about clients interacting with area children.
“There is a strong connection between substance abuse and violent behavior,” he said, adding he has years of experience dealing with people with mental health and substance abuse problems and dual-diagnosis. “People that are violent are unpredictable.”
Tom Bennett, another parent with a child enrolled at the day care, added, “There is plenty of vacant properties here in Brewer. Let’s find a better home for them.”
Several others gave testimony about the importance of counseling. K.C. Harrison, program director at Elijah’s House, a long-term shelter in Bangor for men who are struggling with substance abuse, said residents should fear those who do not seek help.
“To fear people receiving counseling is a mistake,” said Harrison, who is in counseling himself. “It’s inside those counseling offices that miracles happen.”
During the nearly two hours of comments, the list of those who went to the podium to speak was lengthy and included two lawyers who spoke against the center opening.
“This is your only opportunity to know what’s going on,” Greg Campbell of Hampden said to the planning board. “It is not the responsibility of Jim LaPierre to keep the citizens of Brewer safe.
“This company of Higher Ground Services, JCUBED, can go anywhere,” said Campbell, who is a Penobscot County assistant district attorney.