Although recovery from addiction is a personal experience, there is usually a similar structure among treatment and recovery communities. First, the addicted person must seek help and often participates in detox, then treatment. After a period of time inpatient at a treatment program, usually individuals will make an aftercare plan with their counselors and staff members, where they then make plans for recovery housing. Usually, this is the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in the life of the person in recovery.
Unfortunately, for many new to recovery housing, this isn’t always the case. In places where the opioid epidemic has hit the hardest, people say they want more treatment and recovery centers. Sober housing is a part of the package. However, many want that housing located far away from where the residents of a town or city live.
In Richmond, the Department of Health says emergency room visits for heroin overdoses alone jumped 89 percent during the first nine months of 2016, compared to the same period the year before. In Henrico County, police say that heroin overdoses nearly doubled. (There were 201 heroin and opioid overdoses in the county in 2016, up from 112 the year before. Of the overdoses, 36 were fatal.)
When it comes to these numbers, there is no denying that the Richmond area is part of the opioid epidemic. However, a growing number of residents have become uneasy with the idea of recovery housing in their neighborhoods.
The head of a local drug addiction recovery center, The McShin Foundation, says that resistance to sober housing is risking lives. The McShin Foundation has several houses located throughout the Richmond area, with an excellent track record and reputation according to former patients and family who have reviewed it on Facebook, Google and Yelp. Yet local residents don’t want the recovery homes or treatment centers to operate in their particular residential areas.
This not-in-my-backyard attitude has caused visits and inspections, only to have the city or county to declare the homes as safe and up-to-code. Yet locals have been making complaints about fire codes, accusing the various recovery homes of being unsafe. While fire departments have cleared the homes of any violations, Shinholser says he was asked to install a sprinkler system costing $25,000 at a recovery home in Hanover, which he says is harassment. The county says he has more to do in order for the home to stay where it is, even though he has met all the regulations, according to inspectors.
For the residents, whose main focus is staying clean and sober, the visits have been unnerving. They already face regular drug tests and continued counseling to remain eligible for the housing. Many are at a point where many are ready to find jobs or return to family. If they were forced to move out of their sober homes, the ripple effect could be devastating; after all, recovery homes act as the anchor for new people in recovery to start a new chapter of their lives.
The battle over recovery homes is just starting, but fair housing attorneys say it’s simple: recovering addicts are a protected class, considered disabled by the state and federal government. Any harassment or attempts to make these individuals homeless is probably against the law, and attorneys can fight the discrimination in court.
Let’s hope the community has a change of heart and it never gets that far. The whole point of recovery housing is to help people return to the world with a support network in place. It shouldn’t matter whose backyard that takes place in.