Sober Homes in South Florida Causing Community Uproar
You move into a quiet neighborhood in Southern Florida with your spouse and your children, looking forward to reaping the benefits of a decent school system, close proximity to the beach, and all of the mundane security of sweet suburbia. Things go well for awhile, until the uninhabited home across the street rapidly morphs into one of Delray’s many flop houses. Your youngest finds a used syringe in the front yard, you hear cars coming and going at all hours of the night, and on several occasions, ambulances and cop cars speed into the neighborhood with sirens screaming. Drunken girls bawl at their boyfriends in the front yard as you try to sleep. Trash bags full of personal belongings constantly make an appearance on the lawn; sometimes accompanied by a doped-up young man, nodding out while he smokes an unlit cigarette. You become hip to the incessant drug deals, and you begin to fear for the safety of your children. Of course you want the sober houses banned. Of course you want the junkies gone.
Are They All Bad?
There are good halfway houses in Delray Beach – houses that are professionally run; that involve no insurance fraud, and that truly do have the best interest of their clients at heart. And then there are the rest – run by inexperienced convicts with little more than a GED; run on sheer greed and profit motive. These houses ruthlessly rape insurance companies, offering clients free (or abnormally cheap) rent in exchange for several weekly cups of urine (liquid gold). The halfway houses that offer recovering addicts a safe and supportive place to stay while completing the transition back into drug-free living are being overshadowed by the predominance of ill-intentioned flop houses.
Who Do We Blame?
There is a certain degree of ignorance that goes into a blind disapproval of all sober houses, but can we blame those begging for banishment? After all, they are blinded by little other than fear for themselves and their families, coupled by understandable ignorance surrounding the situation and circumstances. Forgive my brute honesty, but the feeling of uneasiness could be compared to the discomfort an uninformed individual may feel when sitting beside a turban-wearing man on a plane. Very few Muslims are Islamic terrorists, but several scarring experiences lead to lasting and widespread skepticism.
The incorporation of a legitimate and reputable sober home into a residential community has never proven to be an issue – in fact, areas rich in recovery are present nationwide, and in most, the economy is thriving. Houses that are strictly regulated and run by professionals may experience some slight issues from time-to-time, but for the most part they remain functional and beneficial to all involved. If a client is late for curfew repeatedly, he or she is given extra chores or an even earlier curfew – not kicked to the curb with no notice. If a client is caught using, he or she is placed back into detox or inpatient treatment – not allowed to stay for an additional $50. Clients are required to work full-time (or part-time, depending on the situation), and are asked to pay rent weekly and in cash. Drug tests may be administered once a week or less, and paid for by the halfway house owner. Insurance is not involved. Why would it be?
Many of the houses in Delray Beach are operating under much different standards.
As long as clients show up for “IOP”, the fact that they spend all of their time at the local Kava bar is essentially irrelevant. The fact that they have track marks up and down their arms is essentially irrelevant. The fact that they’re sleeping with their roommates is irrelevant, and the fact that they have already overdosed twice since they moved in is pretty inconsequential as well. That’s what Narcan is for, anyways. It sounds sick and dramatic, but this is what goes on. I’ve heard horror stories – quite a few. If houses like THESE were adequately regulated and shut down, halfway-related issues would undeniably decrease dramatically.
Here are several of the many flop house-related issues – feel free to add to the list:
- Kicking clients out for ‘breaking rules’ (when their insurance runs out).
Most newly sober addicts and alcoholics (of a certain age group, that which is most prevalent throughout Southern Florida) have had little experience with financial independence. Active addiction is costly, and many come to Florida with nothing aside from the shirts on their backs. During the course of one’s stay at sober living, self-sufficiency and maintaining financial stability should be instilled. Instead, many halfway houses rely solely on insurance policies, and kick their confused clients to the curb once their policy becomes drained or inoperable. This leaves many a newly sober addict with no place to stay, no money, and no remaining bridges to burn. Re-emerging feelings of hopelessness and defeat lead to relapse, and the homeless population increases.
- Not enforcing curfew or other necessary house rules.
Strict house rules are crucial to a successfully run sober living house. If clients are expected to be home by 10 or 11 every evening, they will learn to respect the 9-5 lives of their surrounding neighbors. Keeping a clean living environment (including regular lawn work) will not only keep the neighborhood aesthetics in order, but it will instill personal responsibility. No members of the opposite sex allowed on premises will prevent related dramatics, and teach men and women to form healthy relationships with members of their own sex (which is a skill many addicts and alcoholics tend to lack). If a resident breaks a rule, he or she will receive a proportionate consequence – not be banished to homelessness in a foreign state.
- Co-ed halfway houses.
Many flop houses are co-ed, meaning that men and women live together in the same house – often in the same room. Not only is this a major distraction and hindrance on a personal level, but it is a good indication that no rules are being implemented whatsoever. Men and women are coming and going as they please, increasing neighborhood traffic and congestion. Gender-specific halfway houses are typically more tightly-run, and stand firmly by the belief that women should stick with women and men should stick with men in early recovery. This has been my experience.
- The incessant circle from halfway to detox to inpatient to halfway.
A client may be kicked out of a halfway house for using, and return immediately to detox. Once the individual completes detox, he or she will likely transfer directly to an inpatient treatment facility – often the one that he or she has already attended (maybe multiple times) beforehand. Once inpatient has been completed yet again, he or she will return to halfway – the same halfway that fails to require daily involvement in a 12-step program, that offers no supplemental support or guidance, that relies on insurance and thus has little investment in the actual wellbeing of clients. Living in an unstructured environment like this, relapse is almost inevitable. And the cycle continues.
- Parental obliviousness.
Parents remain oblivious to the true nature of the recovery house their child has been living at, thus they continue to financially reward them for their alleged clean time. This happens, and we all know it does. Lack of guidance and governance leads to an exacerbation of addictive behaviors, and eventual active addiction. Manipulation and the likes. Not solely responsible for, but certainly a contributing factor. If my sober living house was not strictly headed by a compassionate and demanding woman, I would have taken advantage of the leniency and kept doing what I knew how to do best.
It isn’t the addicts and alcoholics that are the issue – we came to Southern Florida seeking recovery and a new way of life. It isn’t the respectable, honest, and morally sound sober living houses that are the issue – they are merely offering recovering men and women an innocuous place to stay as they learn to live independently. It isn’t the Delray Beach locals that are the issue – they expect their community to remain peaceful and safe. The issue is the persistence of pervasive active addiction, which can be linked directly to an overflow of horrible treatment.
Let’s start regulating halfway houses – shut the bad ones down and spend more time and energy on increasing adequate treatment. Things are absolutely getting out of hand, and the only solution is to enforce stricter regulations. The money that is going into medical care, court cases, and increasing the amount of trained first responders could potentially be going towards shutting down the flop houses that the community is now riddled with. Sober home legislation has become necessity. The constant flow of news headlines ripping through the Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post make this exceedingly evident.
Change is beginning, however slowly.
“The state currently has a bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, working its way through the capital.
The bill would prohibit drug treatment providers and sober home operators from making false or misleading statements about their success rates, or proximity to the beach. They would no longer be able to use call centers to market their services or split fees with the agency that makes a successful referral.”