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Recovery Residence Accountability: A Cooperative Effort

Two central problems impact all stakeholders:

FHA & ADA act as a protective umbrella over all those who self-identify as seeking “Recovery” while residing in sober homes located in single family neighborhoods. Federal laws do not specifically protect “Recovery Residence” or “Sober Home” operators; however they do protect those who reside in them provided these individuals meet the “recovery” test.  Use of licensing strategies, local zoning ordinances and/or landlord permitting as enforcement tools to “weed out” bad operators has been shown to be discriminatory and the resulting litigation cost to municipal governments frustrates efforts to exercise control over these predators.

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The “Treatment Provider” and “Housing Provider” worlds are currently in collision. Treatment providers have invaded the housing arena and housing providers have invaded the treatment arena. One outcome of this collision is that certain unethical, fraudulent and criminal practices found in the treatment world are now spilling over into the recovery residence world. FARR is inadequately prepared to respond to this threat. Regulations & ethical, best practices are frequently unclear and the appropriate path to enforcement of regulations, statutes and licensing criteria is undefined and/or under-funded. In Palm Beach & Broward Counties, where FARR Advisory Board members have significantly greater visibility, the dramatic staff reductions in the DCF Regional Office signifies to those prone to take advantage that “the Sheriff has left town”. Incidents of fraud, kickbacks and client brokering are rising and the impact on the local recovery community is, at times, truly horrifying.

The Solutions:

As an Affiliate of The National Alliance of Recovery Residences (NARR), FARR offers certification to recovery residences who voluntarily elect to adopt and adhere to a national set of standards and ethical practices specific to the operation of safe, nurturing housing environments for those seeking recovery from addiction. These standards and practices are derived from the collective experience of those who have dedicated decades of their lives to managing “clean and sober” environments serving a broad spectrum of recovering populations. Recovery Residences operating under these standards are widely accepted as an integral component in the continuum of care.

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As such; FARR is an expert on the subject of Recovery Residences. There are many paths to recovery including Individual and group therapies, twelve step based programs, “Celebrate Recovery” and other faith based programs. FARR recognizes all legitimate approaches and seeks to limit our focus to the certification of housing providers who serve the recovery community. A core standard that distinguishes a Recovery Residence from other rental properties is:

1.8. Recovery Residences provide drug and alcohol free environments;

This (1.8) standard is fundamental. For those suffering from addiction, abstinence is widely accepted as an essential component of the foundation upon which clean and sober lives are built.  Recovery Residences must consistently deliver a drug & alcohol free environment to their tenants.  Clearly; in order to make good on this promise, management must faithfully execute their written alcohol and drug-screening protocols.

4.9. Recovery Residences foster recovery-supportive, alcohol and drug-free environments through written and enforced policies and procedures that address: residents who return to alcohol and/or drug use; hazardous item searches; drug-screening and or toxicology protocols; and prescription and non-prescription medications usage and storage;

Together; these two standards require that Certified Residences regularly conduct periodic and random drug & breathalyzer tests of all residents to ensure compliance. Certified Residences are required to maintain a log of these tests and must be prepared to produce that log upon request. They must also have a written and acceptable policy as to what specific steps follow a failed test and show proof that, in practice, management follows those steps.

Failure to adhere to these standards may result in suspension or revocation of their certification. Continued failure assuredly results in revocation as, by definition, this residence does not meet the fundamental test for a “Recovery Residence”. We would argue that repeated failure to adhere to these standards is evidence that the “home”, and the residents residing within, are not entitled to protection under FHA & ADA as these residents are either actively using or there exists insufficient oversight to ensure abstinence.

FARR mission is aligned with that of state and/or local authorities who seek to “weed out” opportunists who prey on this population for personal gain. We envision an ongoing collaboration with state agencies such as DCF when grievances surface concerning licensed treatment providers (level 4) and with local zoning and/or permitting departments when grievances surface concerning housing providers (levels 1, 2 & 3). Subject to adequate funding; FARR is uniquely positioned to serve as a first-responder for grievances concerning Florida Recovery Residences; both FARR Certified as well as those that are not.

FARR has and/or is currently developing:

  • The expertise & experience necessary to triage inbound concerns & grievances
  • An online, public-facing grievance procedure & form specific to ethics & standards
  • A network of trained inspectors strategically located throughout the state
  • A cloud-hosted inspection database complete with a browser-based UI that is accessible to all inspectors by smart phone and/or tablet
  • “On Demand” and “Registration Required” Recovery Residence training modules covering ethics, standards and best practices.
  • Reliance by treatment providers on FARR Certification when making referrals

As is discussed in the article “The Good Guys” & “The Bad Guys”: The Need for Centralized Enforcement, not all merited grievances originate from providers whose ownership/management falls into the “predator” class. Ethical and well-managed FARR Certified Residences value this communication channel.  Complaints or concerns that originate from a resident, a family member, a neighbor or any other stakeholder, provide management with vital information of which they were unaware. Additionally; there are occasions, particularly with less experienced owner/managers, when grievances provide FARR an opportunity to effectively mentor our members. A well-defined, carefully developed infrastructure to effectively manage or “triage” inbound grievances is essential.  This infrastructure should be a collaborative effort that seeks input and participation from DCF, FADAA, FARR, state & local law enforcement agencies as well as local zoning/permitting authorities.  By way of example:

FARR standard 1.5 states: “Recovery Residences comply with state and federal requirements.

If required, documents such as licenses and certificates of occupancy are visible for public view”

FARR would prefer to insert “local,” where indicated; however without a truly collaborative effort, it’s impractical as we would have no effective means by which to measure or ‘test’ compliance. Faced with literally hundreds (thousands?) of unique municipal ordinances, reasonable accommodation procedures and landlord permitting criteria (all subject to legal interpretation), we would have no reasonable means to enforce adherence to this standard.

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Our case for collaboration is strengthened further by the challenges we now face as a result of state budget cuts. One result of the staffing cut-backs in DCF Regional offices, is unscrupulous operators within the treatment world are “celebrating the Sheriff’s demise”. Client brokering, kickbacks and insurance fraud is rising at alarming rates. It is truly the Wild, Wild West in certain pockets; particularly Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

FARR, FADAA and local zoning departments can all play a vital, necessary role as bird-dogs, sniffing out these abuses; however we need a centralized, investigative authority to which we can forward legitimate concerns. We should be kept informed as to resulting actions/outcomes.  Both FARR & FADAA have established communication channels to our membership. Continuous and frequent publication of news related to state enforcement of existing laws, statutes and regulations could make an immediate and powerful impact on this growing problem.

In a recent conversation with Alton Taylor, Executive Director of the Drug Abuse Foundation of Palm Beach County, Inc. (DAF), Mr. Taylor pointed out that while he shares local government concerns regarding sober housing providers, the problems that would follow their closure would far exceed those we face currently. The majority of residents who reside in sober homes would be homeless were it not for these providers. The cost to local and state government, resulting from a tidal wave of homelessness, would overwhelm budgets. The solution to the predator problem is to identify them and work together to weed them out. The solution to insurance fraud, kickbacks and client brokering is to enforce existing laws and make public examples to the worst offenders. Answers nest in accountability. FARR and its members have adopted national standards. We welcome like-minded providers to join us.