When Debbie Cox bought the old Millie’s Guesthouse on Gurwood Street, she did not expect it would take three years to see it become operational again.
Mrs Cox plans to turn the 16-bedroom, 10-bathroom facility into a recovery house, to help former drug addicts rebuild their lives.
But following two years of council rejections, she will now take her application to the Land and Environmental Court.
“We’ll be heading to court late this year, or early this year, but people need help now,” Mrs Cox said.
Council’s latest decision follows another successful campaign in Victoria that will see a drug rehab house built in the heart of Wangaratta.
“They have approved a rehab house next to a guide hall there, which is very interesting that the community there supports it,” Mrs Cox said.
“But ours is a recovery house. It’s not where people will come to detox from addiction, we won’t have drug addicts there.”
Throughout the past two years, Mrs Cox has met with an equal measure of support and anger from residents.
She believes part of the concern stems from a misunderstanding of what the facility will be.
The Riverina Recovery House – as it will be known – will not be a detox or rehab facility.
“We’re focused on giving them the strength to fully recover, to cope with their triggers, to understand their [former] addiction holistically, and to be able to begin a healthy lifestyle,” Mrs Cox said.
Detox and rehab can be done elsewhere, but for what we’re proposing, well, there isn’t anywhere else in mainland NSW that can provide those services.Debbie Cox
“These are people who have chosen to take one last step before they return to society, so that they can work on their resilience and reenter their lives.”
Mrs Cox has herself supported a loved one through drug recovery, and said she is astounded to see a lack of compassion for the cause.
“I’ve spoken to people on the street, and they’ve said they’re worried they’ll have drug addicts living near them,” she said.
“But that’s not the case. They’re just normal people trying to get their lives on track. I think we need to shift the perception a bit.
We won’t allow people with violent records. If I thought for a second that there was any real danger to the residents down there, of course I would not even entertain the thought.Debbie Cox
Mrs Cox is confident concerns will allay if residents were more willing to discuss the proposal with her.
At the beginning of the process, she even made her phone number publicly available in the hopes that she would have those conversations. She only received three calls.
“For whatever reason, those who are worried have chosen not to speak to me, but I’m always willing to have a chat,” she said.
Should their court bid fail, Mrs Cox is prepared to return the house to its former operation as a guest house.
“Our only plan b would be to reinstate it to a bnb, where we cannot guarantee abstinence from alcohol or substances,” she said.
“But as a recovery house, we will have no tolerance for any kinds of chemicals – not even cleaning chemicals, everything will be clean and green.”