Regulations passed for sober living homes in Phoenix

PHOENIX - Problem houses have been popping up in neighborhoods all over the Valley. Sober living homes have spiked in the last year and a half, prompting action from neighbors. 

As of right now, there's no official list and no real way to know for sure if a sober living or recovery home moves in on your block.

There are a total of 293 substance abuse treatment centers across the state, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

See where each center is located using the interactive map below.

But Phoenix resident Jeff Spellman said he and his neighbors saw the signs. 

"One of our other block watch leaders had seen a real spike in crime," Spellman said.  

After investigating, Spellman and his neighbors found that there were several sober living homes that had moved into the neighborhood.  

They looked for a solution to the associated rise in crime and discovered something frustrating. 

"What we discovered is nobody oversees [group homes]. What we found out was the city had no idea where they were at; how many of them there were," Spellman said. 

It's a familiar refrain being heard in neighborhoods around the Valley.  

Many people can simply look at their "Nextdoor" app and see complaints about new sober living homes popping up all over the place.  

A lot of the complaints are the same with fights, late night traffic, and transients. 

The big questions are where did they all come from and why? Jeff Taylor, who runs the Arizona Recovery Housing Association, has some answers. 

"Heroin has become extremely cheap and readily available," Taylor said.  "When you have people with addiction they're going to need treatment.  They're going to need safe environments to practice their recovery."

Unfortunately, some are taking advantage of those addicted people. 

The Arizona Recovery Housing Association is a self-policing agency, and its member homes have strict rules they have to follow.  

But not all group homes are members, and there's never been regulation forcing them to adhere to any set of standards. 

Taylor said many of the bad actors are fly-by-night operations with no real rules. Many, he said, recruit patients from out of town. 

"They suck their money dry. They don't help them out, and as soon as they're done with their money, they kick them out and then we have another homeless person wandering around," Spellman said. 

When Spellman discovered the problem was widespread, he teamed up with concerned citizens from several Phoenix neighborhoods to form "Take Action Phoenix."  

After more than a year of work the group successfully pushed the Phoenix City Council to pass new regulations on recovery homes. 

The regulations establish a $1,500 licensing fee and have spacing rules so a bunch of group homes can't move into the same neighborhood.  

Taylor said, for the most part, his industry supports the new laws that largely mirror the rules to which his organization, and it's members already adhere to.

"If I'm living next door to a sober living home I want it really to be invisible," Taylor said.  

He added that a good group home will be neat and clean with every one of the six to ten residents having chores and responsibilities. 

There are potential problems with the new laws, however. The Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts could come into play if someone feels they're being discriminated against.  

But Taylor said the federal laws allow regulation in most cases where the rules help the sober living clients in some way. 

"Those standards make it safe for the client, and when you make it safer for the client you make it safer for the community," Taylor said. 

The Phoenix ordinance takes effect in in a few days. That means the existing homes will have to get in compliance or move out.  

However, as mentioned, there's no list of these homes, so regulators will likely rely on neighbors to report unlicensed violators. 

In the meantime, the Arizona legislature passed a similar law that allows regulation over the entire state and will make local ordinances less important.  

However, the framework for that regulation won't be in place for about two years. 

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