New London renews push for sober house certification
New London — With the help of some community partners, the city has revived a stalled attempt to start a voluntary certification process for sober houses, an estimated 30 of which operate in the city.
The news was announced on Friday, less than a week after a man died of a suspected drug overdose at a sober house at 24 Rogers St.
The local nonprofit group Community Speaks Out, which helps families struggling with addiction, has agreed to establish the program. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, through its new affiliation with Yale New Haven Health, awarded the group $5,000 to get started.
Community Speaks Out board member Ken Edwards said the goal is to get the homes to adhere to national standards set by the National Alliance for Recovery Residences. The money from L+M will be used to bring in a representative from the group to train Community Speaks Out members on how to mentor, find resources for sober house owners and how to perform inspections.
“This makes perfect sense because some of the problems we encounter on a regular basis is finding quality, safe supportive housing situations for people in recovery,” Edwards said.
“I’m going to be blunt here. Many of the houses here are rooming houses that hide behind the title sober house so that they can violate zoning laws," he said. "If all you do is rent a room to somebody and call it a sober house, it’s not a sober house. Many of these houses are looking at their profit margins.”
The city’s prior effort to start a program ended with the loss of funding for a program through the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery. It was a similar idea to the new effort, said city Human Services Director Jeanne Milstein, who started the initiative.
The incentive for sober houses to become certified is placement on a referral list.
Edwards said he thought the lesser-quality homes eventually would “fall by the wayside” without being able to get referrals and consequently seeing their business going elsewhere.
The certification process would ensure sanitary and safe conditions in a home that is up to code, where residents have access to support services and are not being overcharged. Homes also would be equipped with the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone.
“It has a lot to do with quality and being a good neighbor,” Edwards said. “Recovery houses should be the nicest on the street, not the ones nobody wants to live near.”
Friday’s announcement was made at a female halfway house on Coit Street operated by The Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. (SCADD) whose operation, unlike most others in the city, is regulated.
Sober houses have no state oversight and additionally are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which protects groups of individuals living together in a “mutually supportive environment.”
SCADD Executive Director Jack Malone used the Coit Street home, known as Altruism House, as an example of what a certified sober house should look like.
He was joined by Mayor Michael Passero, Bill Stanley, L+M’s vice presidents of development and community relations and others for the announcement. Also present was Community Speaks Out founders Tammy de la Cruz and Lisa Cote Johns, whose son Christopher died of an overdose at a sober house in 2014. De la Cruz’s son, Joey Gingerella, was also the poster child for recovery before his shooting death on Dec. 11 while trying to stop a man from beating a woman in the parking lot of a Groton bar, according to witnesses.
While city officials work locally to address the problem of opioid addiction in what Passero called “one of the epicenters of this health crisis,” they also are seeking help at the state level. Milstein plans to testify in Hartford next week on a bill proposed by state Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, that would label sober houses as businesses and provide better accountability.
Milstein said she also would like to see the legislature enact a state certification process with a statewide referral list.
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