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Just say "No" to NIMBYism and "Yes" to recovery housing

Thoughts from Don Troutman, Founder of Clean & Sober Transitional Living

yes“Not in my back yard” has been a long-standing issue with sober living homes and their residents throughout the country. Sometimes the NIMBYism is overt; sometimes it is more cloistered.  I’ve heard, as an example, of a businessman who hesitated to rent one of his business properties to an AA group for their weekly meetings. Tell me - what is the risk in renting to a group of people who continue to bolster their sobriety?  Wouldn’t it be riskier to rent to a group of people who were drinking and taking drugs?

By the same token, I’ve experienced prejudice by some in our community who don’t oppose sober living homes – as long as they are in someone else’s back yard. The flip side of this attitude is represented by the award I received from the California State Assembly for my work in the world of recovery since 1989. Sobriety and personal integrity should be commended, and sober living homes should be viewed as essential assets to community health.

And the truth of the matter is that, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, people who struggle with chemical dependency have protections as a disabled class. They lose that designation if they use illegal drugs, such as heroin. But if they have become chemically-dependent upon the painkillers they took after a crushing car crash, then they cannot be discriminated against.

In 2015, the City of Newport Beach paid $5.25 million (and incurred another $4 million-plus in legal fees) to three sober living companies after the companies sued the city over an ordinance that regulated recovery group homes by establishing quiet hours, parking and smoking areas and van routes. The three companies asserted that the ordinance violated anti-discrimination and fair housing laws, since individuals recovering from an addiction are a protected group. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately sided with the companies, saying there was enough evidence to argue discrimination. The court pointed to comments made during the 2008 hearing, which implied that the City Council was targeting recovery group homes.

Recovery residences, while protected, have to go the extra mile to earn respect. Here at CSTL, we are careful to restrict smoking to an area buffered from our neighbors. Our street is meticulous because we don’t litter in the first place and we pick up the trash left by anyone who does. The only time non-residents gather in our neighborhood of sober homes is to attend one of the many AA, NA or Big Book studies that we are proud to host in our meeting house. Now, that’s the kind of activity I’m proud to have in my back yard.

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