Two months ago, Andrew Chalila was sleeping on the floor at the Hope House, a Bangor homeless shelter, with 16 other men, not all of whom were as committed to staying sober as the 28-year-old is.
Today, Chalila has his own room at the Fresh Start Sober Living House in Bangor that he shares with his Siamese cat, Daisy Buchanan.
“Words can’t describe what this house means to me,” Chalila said Tuesday at an open house for local media. “All of us here are just trying to put our lives back together.”
The home, located at 87 Ohio St., opened its doors a month ago to men in recovery who need to live in a sober and supportive environment. Chalila is one of five men living there now. The house can accommodate seven.
Scott Pardy, 62, of Bangor paid $150,000 for the vacant property earlier this year. A former boarding house, it was infested with feral cats and rabbits when he went through it this summer.
Pardy, who works for a local heating and plumbing supplier, used a portion of his retirement savings to make a downpayment on the property. He borrowed the rest of the cost from a bank and has a mortgage. Pardy bought the property to provide men getting out of jail with no place to go, but who want to maintain their sobriety, with a place to live.
“This a grand experiment,” Pardy, who described himself as being in long-term recovery, said Tuesday. “I’ve volunteered at the Penobscot County Jail for years. I’ve seen the cycle of people being in jail, getting sober, but being released to their former environments with no safe, supportive place to live where they can maintain their sobriety.”
To live at the house, the men must be in recovery, pass drug tests, be employed or seeking employment, and be attending recovery meetings and/or counseling sessions. Residents who are employed are required to pay “a membership fee” to live there.
Chalila, who was convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine, is participating in the Bangor Adult Drug Court. He said that he began drinking and using drugs while a student at Old Town High School.
“Even my friends back then told me to slow down,” he said Tuesday. “Eighteen months ago, I was in active addiction, living for substances.”
Chilala met Pardy while he was incarcerated.
“By talking with Scott, I gained hope that I could live my life in a productive way,” he said.
James Rickrode, 40, of Bangor is the house manager for the new facility. He said his addiction to opioids began in 1999 after he was seriously injured in a car accident. Rickrode said that he was able to wean himself off opioids with the help of methadone, but got into legal trouble with alcohol and is on probation.
Rickrode was sentenced in September 2017 to two years behind bars with all but nine months suspended, followed by two years of probation on a Class C domestic violence criminal threatening charge.
“I see this as a great opportunity for me to set an example for people in recovery and to show them that they can move on,” Rickrode, who has been in recovery for 16 months, said of his work at the sober house.
“This is more of a tight-knit family to me than my biological family,” he said.
Pardy has not created a nonprofit to own or run the home. With the help of others, he has created a Go Fund Me page and a Facebook page.
Fresh Start is the latest of more than 75 recovery residences around the state. A Bangor Daily News survey of the homes earlier this year found that the vast majority, 77 percent, operated in the Portland area. More than 80 percent of the homes opened within the past five years.
Fresh Start Sober Living is not affiliated with any national, state or local organization, according to Pardy. Sober living homes are one of the ways recovery advocates are using to address the state’s opioid crisis.
There are two sober homes for women on Holyoke Street in Brewer, one of which is owned and operated by the Bangor Area Recovery Network . Oxford House, based in Silver Springs, Maryland, operates a sober house for men in Bangor on Ohio Street. It also operates houses in Biddeford and Portland.
Journey House Recovery, based in Portland, operates three sober houses, two in Sanford and one in Lewiston.