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Ongoing Sober Home Legislation in Florida…

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at January 5, 2016

A well-written and balanced article [click here] by Randy Shultz (former PB Post writer) regarding the “state of current affairs” in Florida relating to newly-adopted and more recently-proposed legislation regulating the advertising and use of “Recovery Residences.”

Aside from recognizing that opioid over-prescription by doctors has caused a national epidemic of misuse, the article also rightfully states:

“In 1999, the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated that the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits restrictions on where recovering addicts can live. That well-intentioned finding did not anticipate the level of chicanery that has followed.”

Where the article misses the point (unintentionally) is the statement (or inference to the uninformed) that Recovery Residences are “businesses” operating in residential neighborhoods. This is far from the truth, unless we consider anyone who rents a dwelling to be engaged in operating a business in neighborhood.  If a dwelling is used as a dwelling, then it’s a dwelling.

Where the article hits this point, however, is where a dwelling is no longer used as a residence but rather starts to share the same operations indicia as a commercial enterprise by people coming and going at all hours and otherwise disturbing the quiet enjoyment of the neighbors. This, itself, does not turn the residence into a “business,” but it is these operational characteristics which make any neighbor a bad neighbor.

Here, when a property owner has rented a home to a sober home provider who  is turns subleases beds to persons seeking recovery (as opposed to having a reasonable modicum of being “established” in their recovery progress), the ingredients are there for trouble (“But bad sober houses also damage the neighborhoods in which they operate. At bad houses, visitors came and go at all hours, and the living isn’t clean and sober. Single-family neighborhoods are supposed to be business-free.”).

Where the cities have failed universally, however, and what the article does not recognize, is that lawsuits have been filed not to protect the treatment or housing industry, but rather based upon the fact that each city was engaged in a NIMBY campaign to rid itself of “addicts in recovery.” All such cases, including lawsuits against both Boca Raton and Delray Beach, were based upon the desire of each city to rid itself of what it deemed to be a scourge upon their pristine reputations.  While it’s no longer P.C. to discuss how minorities continue to overwhelmingly live in de facto ghettos, once people in recovery crossed into the better neighborhoods, war was declared. “Take Back Delray” was the rallying cry.

Where the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) do need to be re-examined is in the definition and treatment of what is a “dwelling.”

A place where people live while in active treatment (and therefore in the initial stages between active drug use and drug use abstinence) should be studied to determine whether living within a single-family neighbor is necessary to further their progress in recovery.  At some point, the answer has been proven by science to be “yes.”  But if relapse is at its highest within the first 12-18 months of initial cessation of substance misuse, particularly without a strong support system surrounding the person in recovery, should the surrounding neighborhood have to bear the impacts of that relapse as a going concern?

If the “integration mandate” of the FHA and the ADA are to be faithfully adhered to, we need to determine what “integration” looks like to increase the odds of sustained recovery, rather than as a whimsical policy of HUD and DOJ.

While there was testimony and evidence introduced at the hearings in the various federal lawsuits against the cities about the absolute need and medical benefit to cohabitative and supportive sober living, the cities lost those lawsuits because they failed to introduce any evidence about the “level of chicanery that has followed.” Why? Because that was not the intention of the cities when they tried to regulate sober homes.  They simply did not want “those people” living within proximity to their good neighborhoods.  The ghettos and industrial areas, however, were fair game.

So, one questions whether we are protecting ourselves and those in recovery themselves from being “under siege” from unscrupulous (or well-intentioned but poorly trained) Recovery Residence operators, or simply “under siege” from people in recovery living among us.  Intention, and semantics, play a funny game that way. The former is something that the state has an obligation to correct. The latter is discrimination based upon fear or dislike of others, to which those who hold power are prohibited from effectuating their will.

The takeaway here is that, until we fund sufficient, third-party, neutral and non-partisan studies about how recovery housing vs. treatment housing (two completely different paradigms) need to be implemented to best serve all of society, we find ourselves running in circles.  All studies to date about the efficacy of sober living have universally focused upon the “Oxford House” model of peer-managed, self-governed sober living for people who tend to be more established in their recovery than others, and who tend to have more personally invested in their recovery.  These are people in “recovery housing.” Does (or should) the same model (and protections) apply to people who are simply “boarding” in a home while they undergo the passage from active drug misuse to recovery?  That is an answer that must first be answered by empirical evidence and science, not by fear and protection of property values.

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