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When Does “Tolerance” Transform into “Acceptance” for Sober Homes?

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at March 18, 2015

I read newspaper articles like this daily, from the Meridian, Connecticut “Record Journal” that gets my blood boiling:

The opening of a “sober house” on Myrtle Street has prompted neighbors to speak out in droves at the last three City Council meetings. City officials say their hands are tied when it comes to the use of homes as sober houses, but the city has issued a stop-work order at the Myrtle Street house because of heavy remodeling without proper city permits.

“This area is full of children,” said one neighbor. “Adults are coming from all different backgrounds to live there, and I know they’re trying to better themselves, and I hope they do, but we just don’t feel it’s the best place for them with all these children around.”

Sixty people signed a petition against the sober house and nearly all the neighbors who spoke during the public comment portion of recent City Council meetings said they were concerned the house would affect their property values. Federal law, however, protects sober houses and their residents from discrimination based on purpose.

According to a 2009 report by the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research, “Local governments often try to restrict the establishment or operation of sober houses through zoning and housing codes, but federal law limits their ability to do so. People in recovery from substance abuse disorders are considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Fair Housing Act … The latter law specifically prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap.”

“Our local hands are pretty tied,” City Planner Dominick Caruso said Tuesday. “As long as the house meets all the housing codes, the state of Connecticut governs them. You can put them any place single-family homes are allowed, so whether you’re in Greenwich or Meriden, that’s the law; we can’t restrict them based on that.”

I ask this simple question – when are we as a society and a community going to stop saying “our hands are tied” or “we fear for the children” when the reality is that is a load of B.S. When are we going to step out of our fearful shells and start to actually embrace the Recovery Community for all the good that they really do? The only reason property values may drop (and empirical studies demonstrate, by the way, that they do not) is because people have fear and discrimination coursing through their veins.

Let’s change the discussion as follows and see how one would react, by replacing the concept of a “sober home” with an “African-American home”:

The opening of a home for blacks on Myrtle Street has prompted neighbors to speak out in droves at the last three City Council meetings. City officials say their hands are tied when it comes to the use of homes for blacks to live in, but the city has issued a stop-work order at the Myrtle Street house because of heavy remodeling without proper city permits.

“This area is full of children,” said one neighbor. “Blacks are coming from all different backgrounds to live there, and I know they’re trying to better themselves, and I hope they do, but we just don’t feel it’s the best place for them with all these children around.”

“I can understand the concern, but people need to understand that we do screenings before we allow people to live here. We don’t want criminals or violent residents that might trigger someone back to old behavior,” Potvin said.

Sixty people signed a petition against the house and nearly all the neighbors who spoke during the public comment portion of recent City Council meetings said they were concerned the house would affect their property values. Federal law, however, protects African-Americans from discrimination based on race.

According to a 2009 report by the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research, “Local governments often try to restrict the establishment or operation of residences for black people through zoning and housing codes, but federal law limits their ability to do so. Black people are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act … The latter law specifically prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of race.”

“Our local hands are pretty tied,” City Planner Dominick Caruso said Tuesday. “As long as the house meets all the housing codes, the state of Connecticut governs them. You can put them any place single-family homes are allowed, so whether you’re in Greenwich or Meriden, that’s the law; we can’t restrict them based on that.”

Caruso made a case for giving local government “more teeth” and more autonomy in the process of allowing blacks to move into the neighborhood.

“There should be some kind of oversight, maybe spacing requirements a certain distance from certain areas that do have children in them. We have those kinds of restrictions for liquor stores and bars.”

The city does require blacks who live in town to register with the city, making Meriden one of the few towns in the state to have a requirement of local review, Caruso added.

City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior explained, “I think the perception probably varies, but in general we hear that people don’t want these services in their backyards. Our agency as a whole tries to do things to deal with stigma and discrimination, because I think it is a form of discrimination.”

Caruso said the most common complaint his office receives regarding blacks “isn’t anything physical or really detrimental; it’s just people hanging around the exterior, especially in the summertime.”

Kendzior said Tuesday that for him and the city the location of blacks in residentially zoned areas isn’t a matter of opinion. “The authority to regulate has been taken away from us.”

Did that re-write sting you the way it should have? Good. Because that is how we, as Americans, are acting and treating people in recovery. It’s shameful, disgraceful, and quite frankly, embarrassing. Get over it. Address the real problem, which are the [expletives] who are taking advantage of people trying to turn their life around. As the recovery residence manager said at the end of the article, when asked about the stigma of the sober home in the neighborhood, Potvin said, “It’s an opportunity for people to turn their life around. It’s not just a blight on the street, it’s actually a positive thing for a lot of people.”

IT’S ACTUALLY A POSITIVE THING FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE, including those not in recovery, to get out of their comfort zone and to meet some really downright spiritual people who are trying to just reconnect with others. Embrace them, don’t just “tolerate” them.

Read more here & here.

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