A Senate committee last week unanimously approved a bill that would regulate group homes for recovering addicts. Cities like Delray Beach and Lake Park need help to begin controlling the proliferation of these residences. Already, though, the bill is undergoing changes that may blunt its effectiveness.
Senate Bill 738 would require the Florida Department of Children and Families to license so-called “sober houses.” Regulations in other states, however, have been struck down as discriminatory because addicts are considered disabled under federal law. Sober houses are not certified or supervised by the state, and can open in any neighborhood. They provide only housing. Treatment services, which the state does regulate, are not offered.
The problem is that too many sober houses are bringing crime to their neighborhoods. Terrill Pyburn, an attorney for Delray Beach, which has unwillingly become a draw for recovering addicts, said the city has 500 sober houses. “Some are run by unscrupulous landlords that are exploiting vulnerable population for profit,” Ms. Pyburn told the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee. Often, she said, residents kicked out for breaking rules become homeless, and wind up as criminals or crime victims. She noted that a sexual offender ran a sober house in the city for women.
Delray hired lobbyists, who helped to craft SB 738 in hopes of establishing statewide licensing that would require background checks on operators. That’s also the hope of Lake Park Mayor James Dubois, who told the committee his city has between 50 and 100 sober houses. Service calls to those homes, he said, are taxing the city. “Without at least minimum regulations, Mr. Dubois said, Lake Park will have to keep shifting money from other services to police and fire-rescue.
The Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities acts, which protect recovery patients, may block the state from imposing those regulations. So bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is already making changes he hopes will allow the measure to stand. Instead of licensing sober homes, the new bill would create a state registry. “You can at least provide some minimum standards,” he said, “for states to know where they are.”
The measure would also prohibit sober homes for locating within 1,000 feet of each other. Sen. Clemens said that at least would keep sober houses from dominating single-family neighborhoods.
That’s the least the state can do to help cities and towns overtaken by sober houses. If that doesn’t work, federal lawmakers should find a balance between protecting the rights of addicts and those of homeowners.
for The Post Editorial Board