Pa. lawmakers seek to use vacant state-owned buildings for addiction recovery

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol building Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol building Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Republican State Rep. Jim Gregory of Blair County is in recovery from alcohol use: Nine years sober, he said he wouldn’t be where he is if it wasn’t for help from others.

Gregory led a plan he said would help others who battle addiction by making use of state-owned properties.

“When I reached out my hand and asked for help, I needed that hand to be there,” Gregory said during an interview. “And right now what we’re focusing on now is that the state’s hand is there, that when somebody asks for help, I don’t want to hear crickets.”

He introduced House Resolution 147, which passed the House human services committee unanimously Tuesday.

Gregory pointed to the Hollidaysburg’s veterans’ home as one example of a former state mental health facility repurposed to serve the community. He said old state hospital properties, as well as unused office spaces, all sit on the books, still paid for by taxpayers, but not used for anything.

The plan raises a question lawmakers and state agencies aren’t yet able to answer: How many buildings does the state have sitting around vacant?

Officials from the Department of General Services and Department of Human Services didn’t immediately respond to requests for that information.

State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, who chairs the human services committee, said that’s why the plan is to set up a commission to determine what state-owned properties might fit this need.

The Bucks County Republican said the state would provide the properties to existing addiction treatment providers. It remains to be determined whether those companies would pay the state to use the properties, or how the state might fund needed building renovation efforts.

The plan must pass a House vote, something DiGirolamo said he expects to happen.

“This drug epidemic has got everybody’s attention,” he said. “I don’t see why anybody would be opposed to doing a study as to where the buildings are to see if we can use them.”

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