Photo by Les Stukenberg.
PRESCOTT - The new Arizona statute allowing municipalities to govern their own structured sober-living homes goes into effect Aug. 6, and the City Council is hammering out how to protect the homes’ residents and how to satisfy their neighbors’ standard of living.
At the council’s Tuesday, July 12, study session, City Attorney Jon Paladini set forth definitions, suggestions and, as yet, unanswered questions. First and foremost, he said, is the goal of protecting a vulnerable population from abuse, neglect, mistreatment, fraud and inadequate supervision of those who home operators.
“A well-supervised home will protect the neighborhoods around it; disruptions will be less likely,” Paladini said.
He defined a sober-living residence as a home; however, the operation of it is a business, and the operators will need a business license, a requirement that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017.
Like new homes, existing sober-living homes will need to apply for a permit and will have a suggested one-year deadline to meet the requirements. The city can deny or revoke a permit if an operator or staff provides false or misleading information, has an employment history in which he or she was fired because of physical assault, sexual harassment, theft, falsifying a drug test or selling or furnishing illegal drugs or alcohol. An operator may be denied if he or she is a Level 2 or Level 3 sex offender, on formal parole or probation, or within seven or 10 years’ time frame from a conviction of certain criminal offenses.
Some requirements Paladini proposed are:
• Operators must disclose to the landlord their intention to run a sober-living home.
• Operators must have an operation plan that includes discharge planning, property maintenance, and noise abatement.
• Residents must be actively participating in legitimate recovery programs with records of attendance.
• Operators/house managers must provide 24-hour supervision.
• Like any family, residents can have group discussions, but counseling or professional services in the home makes it a “treatment center.”
• Prescribed medications must have secure storage; operators can manage, but not dispense medication.
• Violating house rules is cause for eviction.
Paladini would like to see homes develop a “good neighbor policy” with a written protocol to follow if a neighbor complains. “We’d like to see them solving the problem locally, not through police or law enforcement,” he said.
If staff or a resident should bring evidence of a violation to city officials, the employee’s job should be protected, and the resident should not be evicted.
Several potential situations still need more discussion. For instance, if a sober-living home provides room, must it also provide board? Should residents be precluded from finding sustenance at a Prescott-area food bank during the day?
What are minimum requirements for house managers? Councilman Greg Lazzell said many house managers are in recovery themselves. “They relate better,” he said.
“Chances of relapse increase when a person in recovery is given the responsibility to manage a home if he’s six weeks out of detox,” Paladini said, adding that setting a time frame for sobriety might be needed.
Residents can be evicted for violating a house rule, but the city wants to avoid “streeting” where residents are kicked out with no plan or support. The city can set minimum requirements, but operators have to figure out ways to meet those standards. They also need to decide if live-in house managers can provide supervision or should there be three shifts that rotate.
Councilman Jim Lamerson stated he would like to require continuing education for house managers for “professional accountability,” as well as a certification program. What exactly constitutes a “legitimate recovery program” concerns Councilwoman Jean Wilcox, who asked about hypnosis and acupuncture.
How to regulate, oversee and enforce any requirements with few available city staff also is an underlying concern.
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