The Dorchester Reporter just posted the first part of an expose of an investigation into sober living homes in Massachusetts. It’s a follow-up of a report by the Boston Herald, inspired by a couple of fatal overdoses in a single Roxbury sober living house, and a subsequent attempt to enact some oversight.
Three years later, little has changed. None of the proposed rules and standards meant to ensure safe living conditions inside the homes have been enacted, nor have any safeguards been put in place for neighbors concerned about the operation of these homes. In fact, an investigation by the Dorchester Reporter has found, no one inside Boston City Hall or the State House can state with accuracy how many sober homes exist in the city or how many people live in them.
The article details the way in which sober living is, primarily, a racket — which is no surprise: People open these homes, using money granted by the government for non-profit businesses. This is not money specifically for sober living houses in particular, money that might be tied to standards and oversight. So, they pack people in, without regard for their stability or commitment to sobriety, and, as the article says, the state can’t step in until something goes wrong. Otherwise, the best they can do is bust these people for violating zoning laws, by converting single family dwellings into dorms. And in the meantime, the owners of these cesspools make tens of thousands in rent.
The article quotes a guy named Charlie Yetman, who runs a few sober living homes in MA. Apparently, he founded something called MASH (Massachusetts Association of Sober Homes), which I cannot find anywhere online, for some reason. I have a feeling that the article might have confused the Minnesota Association of Sober Homes with Yetman’s organization, but I still cannot find anything resembling a set of guidelines or an association in MA. So, supposedly, his organization seeks to provide standards and accreditation, which sober living owners can adopt voluntarily. And I found his reasons for self-imposed guidelines interesting:
In an interview, Yetman said that a code of ethics is needed to make certain that unscrupulous landlords don’t take advantage of recovering substance abusers by packing them into one unit and charging them exorbitant rent. If the owners do not adopt the reforms voluntarily, Yetman said he feared the state will impose more restrictive regulations that would do more harm than good.
“You have to understand that sober homes are the last step in the continuum of care before someone chooses to live alone again,” Yetman said. “Think of these homes as a place to practice living sober.”
I wonder what potential state-imposed restrictions he is worried about?
DOT follows up on David Perry, the guy who owned the Roxbury sober living houses where the fatal overdoses too place, and on the lawsuit that the state filed against him for violating zoning laws (because what else could they hold him responsible for?). His lawyer is fighting this on the grounds that the state is discriminating against addicts.
The operator of one of the largest ‘sober housing’ organizations in the Commonwealth has filed a civil lawsuit against Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, State Senator Diane Wilkerson, the Boston Herald, the City of Boston and its Inspectional Services Department (ISD).
The lawsuit, filed in the Boston Housing Court on April 20, 2007, asserts Safe Haven’s right under law to operate its sober houses free from the harassment and discriminatory scrutiny of the City of Boston and its Inspectional Services Department.
In the ‘Verified Complaint’ Safe Haven’s Executive Director David Perry claims that he was personally defamed at public hearings and in the media by State Senator Diane Wilkerson and City Councilor Chuck Turner and that his reputation has been intentionally and maliciously smeared through the concerted efforts of all the defendants named. Perry claims that his business has been adversely affected as a direct result of the inaccurate and irresponsible attacks launched by the defendants.
Through their Complaint, Safe Haven and Perry seek to establish:
(1) that sober houses require no permit from the City of Boston, citing the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Massachusetts Zoning Act as their authorities;
(2) Safe Haven’s right to operate without constant harassment and scrutiny from the City of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department;
(3) the prevention of further interference with the business relationship…
Perry is still very much in the business, and running something called “Recovery Educational Services,” which is just another sober living outfit, with a bow on top.
Anyway, before I just re-write the whole article, you can go read it here.