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Recovering addicts at Oxford House in Latrobe welcome neighbors at open house

| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Last week, Justin Scates led his mother into his new home, a bedroom with a private bath.

“You deserve it,” Risa Burrell of New Kensington told her son.

Scates is the outreach coordinator at the newly established Oxford House on Weldon Street in Latrobe.

The home is one of 1,600 across the United States for recovering addicts, who democratically run them and self-govern and evaluate each other to avoid relapses.

Scates is one of five men living in the Latrobe house, which was established on Sept. 15. They hold weekly house meetings and are guided by a posted set of traditions, which includes: “Principles should always be placed before personalities.”

They held an open house on Oct. 7 after a group of neighbors attended the City Council meeting on Sept. 23 to express concerns about Oxford House.

“I understand people being cautious,” Burrell said. “It is a scary thing in a lot of aspects, but I would just say, ‘Give them a chance.' ”

Scates, 33, has helped to establish three Oxford Houses in Meadville and Clarion since May 2012 after beginning his recovery in March of that year.

“I look at it as this is what saved my life,” he said.

Burrell said she was unsure if her son would ever beat his addiction until he began living in the Oxford Houses.

“Justin had been through so many programs. I really had almost given up on him,” she said. “He came back from something so horrible, so awful, to where is today.”

Scates was even able to return and meet the warden of the Westmoreland County Prison on good terms, she said. Scates was sentenced to up to 23 months after he threatened a pharmacist with a knife in February 2009, according to court records.

Burrell, surrounded by about a half-dozen family members visiting the open house in Latrobe, said her son has turned his life around. “He's back, and he's better, and it's really just a relief,” she said.

In addition to the traditions, a copy of the house charter, “Insights for New Members,” and a reminder of a $4,000 loan from the Pennsylvania Recovery House Revolving Loan Fund are posted in the kitchen.

The three main rules are keeping rent payments current, resolving conflicts peacefully and keeping each other accountable, Scates said.

Members meet to discuss responsibilities around the house and each one's progress in recovery.

House member Brian Hill, 22, of Monessen said it is important to live in an environment where the possibility of a relapse is taken seriously, along with responsibilities to the household.

“One bad seed can ruin the whole plant,” Hill said. “The way you're living has a lot to do with the person that you are.”

The program helps recovering addicts take responsibility for their actions with the support of others going through the same situation, said Dawn Hennessey, executive director of the Hope Center in Latrobe.

“So many people want to become free of addiction, but we don't set them up for success because we judge them or label them,” she said at the open house.

“Nobody can help an addict more than an addict in recovery,” agreed Laurie Martin, who was representing a New Kensington chapter of Nar-Anon, a worldwide fellowship for those affected by someone else's addiction. Scates had spoken to the group over the summer.

The Hope Center helped the house members pass out fliers to neighbors on Weldon Street before the open house and provided some refreshments. Hennessey said she wants the center and Oxford House to maintain a close relationship.

The house helps fill a gap in addict recovery care, said Carmen Capozzi of North Huntingdon, the founder of Sage's Army.

Capozzi started the drug awareness group when his 20-year-old son, Sage, died of a heroin overdose in March 2012.

“This is part of it,” Capozzi said at the open house. “This is part of the rehabilitation side. We need homes like this.”

In addition to City Manager Alex Graziani and Deputy Mayor Ken Baldonieri, some neighbors did stop by, dropping off cards and gifts, including a welcome mat.

“I give these guys a lot of credit for opening up their doors,” Graziani said. “As a city, we treat everybody the same, and we want to treat everybody right and give them a fair shake.”

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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