Pleasant Street rooming house to become women’s rehab residence

  • The Gardner Athol Area Mental Health Association has plans to transform the former Providence Cliff House rooming house at 648 Pleasant St. into a residential facility for women in recovery. Contributed photo

  • The Gardner Athol Area Mental Health Association has plans to transform the former Providence Cliff House rooming house at 648 Pleasant St. into a residential facility for women in recovery. GAAMHA and property owner New Life LLC hope removations will be completed sometime next year. Contributed photo

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 9/22/2022 9:20:19 AM
Modified: 9/22/2022 9:19:41 AM

ATHOL — At its Sept. 13 meeting, Athol’s Selectboard was brought up to date on plans for a former rooming house located at 648 Pleasant St. Gardner Athol Area Mental Health Association Vice President Shawn Hayden told the Athol Daily News that he and New Life LLC President Peter Fondini wanted the board to understand their plans for the property, which has had its share of problems in recent years. New Life owns the property, which will be leased by GAAMHA.

“Since the Providence Cliff House closed down as a nursing facility,” said Hayden, “it’s been operating as a rooming house under private ownership. I think that probably filled some need to provide housing, affordable housing, for people who need it. Town officials could probably tell you a little better than I can, but it’s also been a little bit of a problematic property given the nature of who has taken up residency there. There have been issues related to drug use and overdoses, that sort of thing.”

The GAAMHA vice president went on to say it’s his agency’s plan to establish a 36-bed recovery home for women. The program is licensed under the state Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services.

“Our approach is to primarily focus on people with MassHealth, so people with Medicaid for insurance,” he explained. “It’s a long-term residential program. The average treatment plan will be six to nine months, and the women, obviously, will get clinical treatment for their substance abuse issues.

“But also, it’s very much a sort of holistic approach where we work on not just the clinical problems, but also start working on all of the peripheral issues in someone’s life who is struggling with that. So, we work on employment, financial education, parenting skills. We work on finding sustainable housing for after program completion, and really take that long-term model as an opportunity to pivot someone from what has typically been years of struggle and try to put them on a trajectory of sustainable long-term recovery.”

Hayden noted that there currently are more than 20 million people in recovery in the United States. He said that fact is rarely discussed, with the general public and many public officials concentrating instead on addiction and overdose.

“But there are a lot of people who get well every day,” he continued. “Typically, it takes sustained, consistent effort and skill-building to get there. There are no quick fixes for addiction. There’s no panacea or silver bullet. It’s really a long-term approach to build sustainable recovery. So, that’s what that model is intended to do.

“We’ll have two different levels of care in the building. There’s the traditional recovery home model, and we will also have some beds that are designated for what they call ‘co-occurring enhanced’ recovery homes. Those are specifically for people who are dually diagnosed with both substance abuse and mental health issues.”

Hayden said the program’s structure will give GAAMHA the ability to provide a higher level of care for residents.

“It allows us to bring some nursing into the building,” he said. “We’ll have a nurse on staff. It gives us a better clinician to client ratio, so we’ll have a pretty substantial roster of clinicians who can provide services there.”

The facility, he said, will be staffed ’round the clock and will provide a highly structured program with a curriculum he described as “robust.”

Hayden pointed out that GAAMHA has been operating recovery homes in the Athol-Gardner area for five decades, beginning in 1972.

“We have a program model with a lot of long-term success,” he said, “including my own. I’m a graduate of one of those programs — the Pathway House in Gardner. We’ve got thousands of alumni who can speak to how our approach works well.

“And there’s a huge need. There are few opportunities in the North Quabbin area. If you’re a woman, you’ve got to uproot and you’ve got to go — you know, the closest option is in Greenfield, and beyond that, you’ve got to go to Worcester or Springfield. So, hopefully, we can provide a level of care the people need, but they’re not going to have to leave their families and their doctors and therapists; all of the things that part of their whole support system in order to get the care they need.”

Hayden said GAAMHA and New Life are partnering to undertake extensive improvements to the property. He said the building will undergo a full interior renovation, adding that the commercial kitchen will be completely renovated in order to bring it up to code. The building’s safety measures, such as the sprinkler system, will also be re-worked to meet state and local requirements. Privacy fencing will also be added to the exterior.

“It sits in a residential neighborhood,” he concluded. “All of our homes like this do. So, it’s really important to us that if we’re going to have a property that sits in a residential neighborhood, it’s got to be an asset to the community. It’s got to improve property values, not take away from them.”

Hayden said it’s the hope of GAAMHA and New Life to get the new facility up and running by sometime next year. Once open, he said, it will create about 30 full-time jobs, ranging from entry-level up through “high-paying, masters (degree) level jobs.”

Greg Vine can be reached at

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