MONTGOMERY — Dozens of residents in Montgomery's McGehee Estates are outraged after residents of a sober living facility allegedly attempted to coax three underage girls into their vehicle.
On Tuesday, residents attended a meeting of the Greater McGehee Estates Neighborhood Association, which is not a standard homeowners association, to address the incident where two older men allegedly attempted to lure three underaged girls back to their residence. Two Montgomery mayoral hopefuls, Victorrus Felder and Barret Gilbreath, also attended the meeting.
Two members of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), who recently became involved in the investigation, spoke to the residents and took questions on the details.
Shawn Loughridge, the regional commander of SBI, said he was asked to speak to residents at the behest of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) Secretary Hal Taylor, who lives in the community.
According to Loughridge, three girls riding a golf cart were approached by two white males in a vehicle who began to engage with them.
"They approached the girls, and basically the driver said, 'Hey, we got two twin girls that live in our residence here in McGehee Estates,' and started talking to them and asking how old they were. Well, of course, this alarmed them, and they went back to their parents, and they contacted the Montgomery Police Department."
After a few days of investigation, law enforcement was able to locate the residence at nearby Belcher Drive. The location is a collective living facility for individuals suffering from addiction. Every resident that spoke with 1819 News said they were unaware of the house's purpose.
"It's called the Oxford house, but it's a halfway house," Loughridge said. "…[W]e took a state trooper over there, and there are 10 to 12 ex-felons living in that house right now. None of them are sex offenders, but all of them are registered felons. And, it's a house where people are getting, I guess, treatment for their drug addiction. Now, I'm being honest with you all about this, most all of them are on probation through the state probation and parole system for numerous felonies, such as methamphetamine, fentanyl, heroin, burglaries, stuff like that."
Loughridge said they are continuing the investigation, which included seizing two phones and fitting one suspect with an ankle monitor, but no arrests have been made.
Loughridge said there are six Oxford Houses in Montgomery alone. However, the Oxford House website lists 14 Oxford Houses in the city, with occupancies ranging from six to 12. Dozens more are spread across the state.
Several residents spoke about their concern with having a house full of convicted felons in a neighborhood that are not required to declare their presence to the community.
Concluding his remarks, Loughridge empathized with residents, saying he wouldn't want such a house in his neighborhood, and encouraged citizens to contact their state and local representatives for a solution.
Zoning restrictions in the area would typically preclude more than two individuals with different last names from living in a single dwelling. However, Oxford House has taken such zoning cases to the Supreme Court and won.
"Fortunately, the 1988 Amendments to the Federal Fair Housing Act prohibit discrimination against handicapped individuals," The Oxford House Website says. "This prohibition requires local governments to make a reasonable accommodation in their zoning laws to enable handicap individuals to effectively deal with their disability."
Oxford House, Inc. is a Delaware-based non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation that serves as the umbrella organization of the worldwide network of more than 3,000 individual Oxford Houses.
According to the Oxford House manual, there is no time limit for a person staying in a house. Additionally, each house must be "democratically run," support six or more individuals, be financially self-supporting, and expel a person who returns to using drugs or alcohol.
There is no requirement for supervision or staff of any kind. Or, as the Oxford House annual report puts it, "If you ask ten residents the question: 'Who manages the house,' nine out of ten will respond: 'Oh, the inmates run the asylum, and it works just fine, thank you.'"
Any group of recovering individuals can start a new Oxford House. All they need to do is find a house to rent in the group's name and apply to Oxford House, Inc., for a charter. The home must be able to accommodate at least six residents. However, as in the case of McGehee Estates, some houses have almost double that number. The website claims that 78% of Oxford House residents have served jail time.
In 2022, Oxford House Inc. received $50,000 in state grants from the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH). ADMH has also distributed nearly $1 million in federal grants to Oxford House Inc. since 2019.
According to the 2021 annual report from Oxford House Inc., the organization reported an income of $19,296,466, mostly from federal awards, followed closely by state and local awards.
The organization's highest expense is salaries, which totaled $7,288,926 in 2021.
Oxford House has filed numerous suits against other government entities over the years, alleging violations of federal laws by attempting to ban the houses.
Oxford House sued the city of Dothan in 2021 for refusing to supply power to a local Oxford House until they obtained the city's no-cost business license, which it provides to non-profits. As of December 2022, the suit cost the city of Dothan over $500,000, according to WTVY.
It doesn't seem that much can be done for McGehee Estates residents. With the weight of Supreme Court precedent and federal law behind Oxford House Inc., many residents expressed a negative outlook on the house's future.
Loughridge claimed the Belcher Drive House was in the process of being removed from the neighborhood. However, it is unclear under what authority or mechanism that would be accomplished.
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