Thursday, February 08, 2007

Recovering folks face "Sober House" scams

Recovering folks just emerging from residential treatment may find themselves vulnerable to unscrupulous "Sober House" operators, according to recent stories in the Minneapolis-St.Paul Star Tribune by staff writers Tony Kennedy and Terry Fiedler.

Julie Coverdale was steered to a sober house by her counselor after a month at a 12-step treatment program. The house was billed as "Phase II" of her recovery, but there was no therapeutic component to it, other than the requirement that she attend two outside AA meetings a week. She was turned out of the house without legal process when she was found smoking cigarettes in her room. She had to fight to get her deposit and her personal belongings back. She said most clients who get evicted just walk away. Source.

Sober house operators in Minnesota get around the state's tenant protection laws by classifying the facility as "disabled housing." Clients are made to sign waivers of tenant rights and are called "guests" or "program participants" paying "program fees" instead of rent. Many find that they can be evicted on 15 minutes' notice. Some operators profit from frequent evictions of their vulnerable clients, too insecure to demand return of their deposits or belongings. Says the paper:

HEART, a Minneapolis nonprofit, spent about half of its $275,000 grant budget last year to cover the first month's rent for financially needy clients who moved into sober houses. More than a year ago, however, the agency stopped paying security deposits because so many landlords failed to return the money.

"It's hard to tell who is starting in it for an honest reason and who is starting it as a quick way to make a buck," said Anne Germain Beauclaire, HEART's executive director.

Despite abuses, sober houses are proliferating in Minnesota due to cutbacks in public funding for treatment and tougher insurance regulations. They can be highly profitable for the owners. Says the paper:
Sober houses exist in a legal netherworld: Landlords say they are exempt from local tenant laws because their clients are disabled. Yet the owners don't have to provide tenants with counseling or other services because the homes are not licensed treatment centers. The program is whatever the landlord says it is, and tenants who violate the rules are often immediately thrown out.
Read the full story.


reczone said...

Thank you for the informative piece. I owned and opertated a recovery residence for 10 years in Delray Beach and understand the industry. After about five years I started a web site,
just so people who became non compliant with drug free living could get situated somewhere and start again. I often allowed them to return because it was and should be about the people.

julie coverdale said...

I am Julie Coverdale. I did the legal research and broght the story to the Star Tribune. Unfortunately I left St. Paul befor I could finshis what I started which was to bring regulation and oversite to these "houses" for the protection of the tenants.

Anonymous said...

The thing is that even "established" sober houses have issues with oversight. Which resident can stay or leave is often dependent on one manager's personal opinion of the resident at any given moment. Also the owners and house managers often fail to live up to 12 step principles themselves and are not really accountable to anyone. Having been part of the MN recovery scene for several years, I have been both a sober house resident, and been close to several house managers. The stories I could tell....