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Unregulated “Sober Homes” Often Provide Poor Living Conditions


A system of largely unregulated group homes provides poor living conditions to people throughout the country who are grappling with substance abuse, homelessness and a return to life after prison, according to

These “sober homes” do not provide treatment on-site, but many require residents to attend outpatient therapy. In New York City, these facilities are paid for largely through welfare, disability payments and Medicaid. They are not licensed or overseen by any city or state agencies. Some advocates say the houses institute rules that violate patient rights and tenant laws.

Well-run sober homes can help people in recovery, says Dr. Leonard A. Jason, Director of the Center for Community Research at DePaul University in Chicago. They can help residents develop a sense of responsibility, and provide them with skills and confidence to live productively. “If it’s a really well-run sober living home, that house could be a place of real health,” he notes. “It can be done right, but it can just as easily be done very wrong.” Jason recently wrote a policy statement, “The Role of Recovery Residences in Promoting Long-term Addiction Recovery.”

Complaints about sober homes have surfaced in communities including Los Angeles, Long Island, and Boston.

In New York City, people come to sober homes from hospitals, social services agencies, prison, and the street. New York Attorney Matthew Main of MFY Legal Services, which has brought suits on behalf of sober home residents, says the system addresses a need, but can also be harmful to the people it claims to help. “This system is like a conveyor belt that grabs the most vulnerable people from our communities,” he said. “It takes people who don’t have anywhere else to turn, stuffs them into these dilapidated apartments, and has them stay there to attend a treatment program only for as long as it’s necessary to recover. And then spits them out.”

5 Responses to this article

  1. Stacy Belisle / August 16, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    There are regulations and governing bodies in place for treatment facilities (JACHO & CARF)which function in part to make sure those facilities follow the rules and do not violate a patients rights. Why not broaden these organizations reach into the Sober Living environments with similar rules.

  2. Perry Kaplan / July 12, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    The genesis of sober houses is that the states failed to provide housing for the vulnerable people coming from institutions, hospitals and prisons who were not ready to live independently but did not qualify for state- or City-funded housing. I’m no great fan of sober houses–of course there sober houses that are abusive and/or discriminatory–but as the first commenter said, most of them beat the streets. And most are not paid for with welfare or state dollars directly (although residents may use public benefits payments to defray their cost of living there). This is just more “blame the victim” mentality. Fail to provide safe housing for society’s most vulnerable individuals, then close down their only alternatives (already closed down the SROs and adult homes that sober houses replaced). If government wants to regulate a service, then they have to pay for them–not just shut them down.

  3. Anne Fletcher / July 10, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Another major problem is that many sober homes will not admit clients who are on Suboxone or methadone, a travesty given the dozens of studies showing that medically assisted treatment significantly decreases relapse and death rates. I wonder how many sober home owners/managers know that it’s illegal to deny people on MAT sober housing. This is stated in the government brochure, available from SAMHSA’s website:

    p. 13: “The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it illegal to discriminate in housing and real estate transactions because of someone’s disability.People in MAT are protected from housing discrimination under the FHA – just as are people with other disabilities.

    Anne Fletcher, M.S., Author of INSIDE REHAB: The Inside Truth About Addiction Treatment – and How to Get Help That Works

  4. Fred C / July 10, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Living on the street is not certified either but is sometimes the only alternative to sober houses. This article offers no better solution to the problem.

  5. Avatar of Gerald Scott
    Gerald Scott / September 30, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Hi Anne, our agency Asheville Recovery Group (ARG) has to agree with your assertions about the ADA. Beside the evidence pointing to the benefits of MMT and other ORT’s. ARG is a clinically managed harm reduction recovery residence and we do accept, and even welcome clients on Suboxone or methadone. For details on our agency please see:

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