By JOHN P. EVANS III
As soon as the middle of May, Greensboro’s historic Riverside Inn is likely to be occupied once again, only this time it will be in business for a very special and unique purpose.
The old hotel, which was last occupied in 2012, has been vacant for many years. Though there have been a number of proposals brought forth for its continued use, none have been acted on. All that will change when the hotel, which is currently under renovation, reopens as transitional housing for recovered drug users.
A public reception is scheduled for April 17th at 6 p.m. at which time the building’s owner, Dr. Gary Sprouse, will explain his plans for the hotel and to address any ‘fears” residents might have. Sprouse wants to assure those who are fearful that the residents of the building will be recovered addicts who have been carefully screened. The housing at the inn, which is to be renamed Riverside Rentals, will be two persons to a room. Rooms will be small, hotel-sized and meant only as transitional housing.
Another key phrase attached to the concept is “Sober Housing.” “Our number one concern is to offer safe and sober housing for recovered addicts trying to get back on their feet,” said project manager Samantha Parker. “Likewise, we want to assure the community that the residents are not to be feared. People who haven’t completed their rehab program will not be living there.”
Sprouse, 61, has practiced internal medicine in Queen Anne’s and Caroline Counties for 32 years and is undertaking Riverside Rentals with the hope it could be the first of many such places on the Eastern Shore. “I have worked with patients with serious addictions for many years and have found that there are a lot of patients who have no affordable place to live after they complete their recovery program,” said Sprouse. “It turns out that one of the shortcomings of the (drug treatment and recovery) system is that there is not a lot of places for recovering addicts to live. Among other barriers, if a recovering addict ends up homeless, they could end up in situations where they get in trouble again.”
Sprouse said the hotel was ideal for transitional housing because it already had rooms, a large meeting area and a restaurant. All would be needed for such a place. Sprouse has set the middle of May as the target date for opening for business.
Sprouse said that although no limit has been placed on how long a person can live in such a place, it is unlikely it will be seen as long-term housing. He said rent will be charged, “as affordable as we can make it,” and that each room would be “dorm-like.” Parker said there would be two persons to a room who are unrelated and that males will live with males, and females with females.
“It is not a family-like setting, it is not meant as a place for families to live together. Each person would be living in a room with a roommate,” Parker added.
There will be 12 rooms in the building, 11 upstairs and one room on the first floor to accommodate any disabled residents. There will also be a “caretaker couple” living in a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor that will provide 24/7 monitoring.
“Our goal is to house 30 residents,” said Sprouse, who added that he wasn’t required by the State to have the live-in caretakers but is doing it anyway.
Greensboro town manager Jeannette Delude said there are still some licenses to be approved, but that the town commissioners as well as the planning board have signed off on Riverside Rentals. “They have gotten approval for use of the building, occupancy licenses are still needed,” explained DeLude, who provided an Aug. 16, 2017 memo from the town’s planning and zoning board that said that although some residents of the town might not want such a facility, having one could be viewed as a positive move by the town to fight the growing epidemic of drug abuse in the county.
The planning board proposal, however, continually referred to the residential facility as a drug treatment center, which Sprouse says it is not.
“This is not a treatment center, it’s not a clinic. It is a place for people in recovery to come to live with safe and sober housing, That’s it!” assured Sprouse.
In an interview, Sprouse assured that no treatment will take place on the site, though some residents might be taking medicine that helps them from rekindling their addictions. He said anyone considered for housing will be responsible for paying rent and must have recently completed a recovery program and been sober for more than 30 days.
A web site has already been set up for Riverside Rentals, www.liveatriversideretals.com. On the site is the statement that “Riverside Rentals offers safe and sober housing to people in recovery.”
Another statement states “residents are expected to maintain their sobriety and be productive members of the community.” Sprouse said any resident who is found to be taking drugs while living at Residential Rentals, will be removed from the premises.
DeLude said she is hopeful, and confident, that the April 17th meeting will reassure townspeople who still have concerns. The meeting will take place at the hotel.
“We’re glad to have somebody fixing it up, that’s a plus,” said DeLude of the renovations to the hotel, which had fallen into disrepair.
Sprouse said an added plus for the location is its natural setting. “It is a beautiful place with some nice views off the back deck. We also hope that the large room can be used for meetings,” Sprouse said.
Sprouse said his ultimate goal is to have a place like the Riverside Inn in each county on the Eastern Shore. “There is need for it on the Eastern Shore, there just isn’t enough affordable housing,” he added.
Sprouse said an advantage to having several such residences at different locations is that it is often best for a recovering addict to not go back to live near where they lived when they were addicted. “If you go back to living around the people you did before and they are addicts, it’s not a good place to put someone in recovery,” he said. “Transitional housing helps to prevent that.”
Sprouse said he is also writing a book which follows the notion he is trying to prove that if a recovering addict is provided affordable housing and other “helping hands” as soon as possible after finishing treatment, the chances improve of permanent recovery. “I am writing a book to redefine addiction and ways to assure recovery and such a setting implements my ideas. I want to see if my ideas work,” said Sprouse. “If it does, then this would be the first of several places like it.”
Sprouse said applications are being taken for those wanting housing at the Residential Rentals building. Go to the web site, www.liveatriversiderentals.com, pull up the application page, fill it out and send it. All applicants will be thoroughly reviewed.