Palm Beach Post: Sober Home Invasion
On Riviera Drive in Boynton Beach, frustrated homeowners joke that they live on "Rehab Drive" — because three of the 14 houses on the cul-de-sac are sober homes. But those homeowners aren't laughing; some walk around with pistols — protection, they say, after shouting matches with people in the sober homes.
In Palm Beach Gardens, some longtime homeowners in the Garden Woods neighborhood used to leave their garage doors open and front doors unlocked. Now, they're locked shut, they say, because a sober home opened weeks ago on Bayberry Street.
Less than a block from the ocean in Delray Beach, Ray Jones aims a security camera on his $1.7 million house directly across the street — at an upscale sober home full of wealthy drug addicts and alcoholics. "If anyone relapses," Jones said, "I want to know if they're coming on my property."
It's a delicate balance — the rights of homeowners to live without worry vs. the civil rights of addicts trying to get clean. Welcome to the suburban front line in the national heroin epidemic.
It's right outside the living room window in neighborhoods across Palm Beach County, where homeowners say they're living under siege from a clandestine invasion of sober homes — an incursion spawned by the gold rush of the lucrative addiction treatment industry.
From a gated development in Wellington to the oceanfront in Delray Beach, they say they're finding needles near their driveways, staying up nights because of lights and sirens and, in worst cases, watching the medical examiner wheel corpses from the house next door.
Some people won't walk down their streets at night or let their children ride bikes during the day. Others buy houses just to prevent them from being turned into sober homes.
Most are damn angry.
They say their local governments, handcuffed by federal law, aren't doing enough. So, they vent on social media, protest at neighborhood meetings and complain to anyone who will listen.
"It's frustrating," said Joe Onimus, who has complained about noise and traffic from sober homes in his Boynton Beach neighborhood. "It's how I have to live. The only way to stop them is to let them know I won't put up with them."
'Not all sober homes are the same'
Also known as halfway houses, "three-quarter houses" and recovery residences, sober homes are the final step in treatment for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. Living with others trying to kick addiction helps them transition into sober living.
Plenty of well-run sober homes, which closely supervise recovering addicts, blend into neighborhoods without attracting attention. But that doesn't always happen.
Horror stories about poorly supervised sober homes — including drug use, fatal overdoses and, in one case, accusations of addicts being prostituted — have clouded public perception of all sober homes.
"People are scared," said Lisa McWhorter, chief executive of Wayside House, an addiction treatment center for women in Delray Beach. "They hear about addicts and the bad things that are happening. But not all sober homes and recovery residences are the same."
Many homeowners overreact when they hear about a sober home moving in down the street because they don't understand recovery or the fact that addiction is a disease, say addiction treatment experts.
"You can't presume they're a bad neighbor," said Jeffrey Lynne, a Delray Beach attorney who represents sober homes and treatment centers. "It's a stigma because 'we don't want those people living next to us.' It's fear."
Homeowners probably already are living among drug addicts and alcoholics — neighbors who aren't in recovery — but don't know it, experts say.
"A well-run sober house could have the least drug use in the neighborhood," said Andrew Rothermel, president of Origins Behavioral HealthCare, a drug and alcohol treatment center.
While some recovering addicts don't blame homeowners for being afraid, they also say it's not fair to assume that people trying to get clean are a threat to the community.
"To think they would judge me is kind of sad," said Eva Derrickson, 26, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict from Philadelphia. "We are just regular people trying to get better."
'Why can't you do anything?'
No one knows exactly how many sober homes operate in Palm Beach County because they are unregulated. And since addiction is a disease protected under federal disability laws, the mere act of counting them could be viewed as discrimination.
Of the 199 sober homes across the state that voluntarily registered with the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, the vast majority — 118 — are in Palm Beach County, known for decades as the addiction treatment capital of America.
But the actual numbers are much higher because many sober homes don't register with FARR. For example, 15 are registered in Lake Worth, but city officials say the actual number could be as high as 75.
"I constantly hear the same thing: 'Sober homes are taking over the city. Why can't you do anything?'" said Lake Worth City Manager Michael Bornstein.
Palm Beach County is the U.S. mecca for the addiction treatment industry. Of 199 sober homes registered in Florida, 118 are here. "The simple answer is, we can't. It's out of our control. As long as they are in treatment, they are protected."
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects addicts in recovery. The federal Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination against the disabled, essentially trumping local zoning laws that would bar businesses from neighborhoods.
And many municipalities are wary of cracking down after the city of Boca Raton years ago spent $1.3 million in a losing effort to ban sober homes.
But homeowners don't care. They just want their elected leaders to get rid of the sober homes, echoing the "not in my backyard" cry more commonly heard in opposition to strip clubs, landfills and gas stations.
"We are frightened," said Debbie Finnie, a board member of the North Shore Neighborhood Association in West Palm Beach."These people are dropped into neighborhoods where people have lived for 35 to 40 years. It has turned our neighborhood upside down."
No solution is easy because it's a delicate balance — the rights of homeowners to live without worry vs. the civil rights of addicts trying to get clean.
"I get an email or a phone call every day, from different people, or I am stopped on the street. And the conversation is difficult. People just don't understand. We as a city are handcuffed in every direction," said Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein.
Glickstein, whose city is ground zero for sober homes in Palm Beach County, with a count estimated at several hundred, said one gun shop owner told him sober homes are good for business.
"I don't know of any other disability that is pushing people who never owned a firearm to now own one because they are concerned about public safety in their single-family home," he said.
Meanwhile, some residents in the city's Osceola Park neighborhood are beyond exasperated.
"This is supposed to be zoned 'single-family residential,'" said Gary Wulf. "It should be zoned 'heroin outpatient."'
(Mod: I found the following website from Costa Mesa last night. Link to all of it here.