Watching Prescott’s efforts: How does county deal with sober living homes?

Steve Mauk, Yavapai County Development Services director, far left, and Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields listen as state Rep. Noel Campbell, right, speaks about recovery homes Aug. 15 at the county Administration building. A second meeting takes place Aug. 25.

Courtesy Photo

Steve Mauk, Yavapai County Development Services director, far left, and Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields listen as state Rep. Noel Campbell, right, speaks about recovery homes Aug. 15 at the county Administration building. A second meeting takes place Aug. 25.

Steve Mauk, Yavapai County director of Development Services, began a community meeting Aug. 15 on structured sober living homes by letting the audience of about 50 know he expected a “productive, lively, civil conversation.” That’s exactly what happened – even with at least seven candidates present.

What is a Residential and Services zone?

Residential and Services (RS) districts permitted use includes the offering of personal services within enclosed buildings (such as, but not limited to, beauty and barber, massage, photography, group instruction, tailoring and small appliance repair); hospitals, clinics, sanitariums and nursing homes for the care of humans, on a minimum one-half acre parcel; offices in which only professional, administrative, clerical or sales services are conducted.

Mauk’s primary wish is to see the state legislature require licensing and provide oversight of sober living homes. That has not happened, so existing ordinances govern how the county works with these facilities. Right now, the county allows sober living homes to operate in commercial and in residential and services (RS) zoned districts. They are not allowed in other residential zones.

Three ways to define a ‘family’ residence

a. An individual, or two or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or other legal relationship including any live-in domestic help, living together as a single housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit.

b. A group of not more than eight persons who need not be related but function as a family customarily living together as a single housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit.

c. A residential facility for not more than 10 persons duly licensed by the State of Arizona for the developmentally disabled, family foster home, adult foster care or similar residential facility.

All nine criteria of the new state statute (ARS 11-269.15) governing structured sober living homes must be met, Mauk said. These are:

Any premises, place or building.

Substance-free housing.

Promotes independent living.

Promotes life skill development.

Provides structured activities directed toward recovery.

Is a supervised setting.

Must be a group of unrelated individuals. 

Must be recovering from addiction.

Must be receiving out-patient behavioral health services for addiction while living at the home.

Asked about Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk’s opinion on sober living homes in the county, Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields, who advises the county supervisors, said he spoke to Polk and she is in favor of looking at the issue. In one instance, he said, Polk prosecuted a group home manager for selling heroin on the premises.

The county has so far identified four or five homes as they come to its attention. Fields emphasized that as the homes are identified, the county looks at specific facts and initiates an interview – an “open dialogue” – with the owner or operator. Investigators determine if the operator needs a reasonable accommodation to assist the residents to get the help they need. The county cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. If the home is in violation, Mauk said, his department works with the operator to bring it into compliance.

“The county may take steps like the City of Prescott, but we don’t have that immediacy,” Fields said.

In answer to a question, no, the county does not work with insurance companies. However, a good operator would speak with county departments to find out what is needed to open and operate a

sober living home, Mauk said.

He counts on county residents to notify him if they suspect a residence could be a sober living home and in violation of county ordinances. He doesn’t deny there could be more than five homes, but that is all he is aware of at this time. He mentioned three: one in the Dells, one in Ho Kay Gan, and one in Paulden that was shut down.

One man said his property out Williamson Valley adjoined a home rented by a recovery facility, and he notified the county which didn’t do anything. He now sleeps with a gun nearby. Mauk said he would take a second look at the property.

A three-page list of suspected properties throughout Yavapai County and incorporated cities and towns that is circulating around contains nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other businesses licensed by the state, Mauk said in a phone call Aug. 16. He is working with one sober living home now that is in violation of county ordinances. He knows of only one home in good standing.

“Every case is different. We want to know what’s going on. We research and investigate, case by case,” Mauk said.

The county is watching what the Prescott city council is developing for its regulations. If the county feels a need to move forward with something similar, it will take a look at that, Fields said.

A second informational meeting takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Yavapai County Administrative building, 1015 Fair Street, Prescott.