Prescott residents raise concerns about 'sober homes'

Arizona has long been a destination for people seeking treatment for addiction, but in Prescott, the number of treatment center and sober homes has jumped.

People who live near the sober homes have complained to the city and now there is an effort underway to set new standards and crack down on bad operators.

With its serene landscape and charming town square, Prescott has been a place where people come for many reasons to get away, but lately, it seems one of those reasons is to get sober.

Locals know a white van out front usually means it is a sober home. A place where people stay while they are seeking treatment for addiction. About 150 sober homes are known to be operating in the city. Most of them are concentrated in the center of town. Some have excellent reputations, others do not.

"The tone in this town has become terrible," said Timothy Michael, who runs the Compass Recovery Center.

The people in his program stay in a home not far from the town square. His center contracts with a company that runs the home and brings in a house manager to watch over the addicts seeking treatment.

"They do every training that we do. If it is a hand washing training, they are here," he said.

But not all sober homes have the same standards for house managers.

"It is a kid that just got out of treatment. It is a kid or it is just somebody's friend," said Michael. "There are too many places that are running with people who do not have the skills to do the job. Plain and simple."

There are no formal rules and requirements for house managers and that is part of the reason why the city of Prescott has fielded so many complaints from neighbors. Thanks to a bill that was recently signed into law, they are starting to get a handle on the problem.

"I am not going to speak for everybody in Prescott, but there are neighborhoods that are being affected negatively by these homes," said Glenn Martin.

Martin would know how to spot one. His son Joey died in a sober home in California while recovering from a car wreck. The then teenager became hooked on pain pills. For years, his parents sent him to various programs. Eventually, he ended up in California.

"It seemed like we were on the right path. He was looking for a job. He had signed up for college. He wanted to move on with the rest of his life," said Martin.

But one night, while staying at a sober home, the 22-year-old got his hands on some drugs.

"The manager, not being trained to recognize overdoses, did not do a drug test. Instead, what he did was send him to bed and he never woke up the next morning," said Martin.

Now Martin is working to better the industry.

"We want to set a standard and we want to set something where our people who come out of these homes carry on and become productive members of the city or wherever they may live," he said.

As part of the effort to set standards for the homes, Yavapai College launched a course for house managers this month and the city has discussed making that a requirement.

Prescott is a small city, so the issue is very visible here, but this isn't just a Prescott problem. Cities across Arizona and the country are trying to figure out how to handle it too.

A group of senators and congress members from around the country have sent letters to the government accountability office, asking for more clarity and regulation when it comes to sober living homes.

Tuni Hariford came to Prescott from San Francisco, where she was addicted to heroin for 20 years.

"My life drastically changed when I made the decision to try heroin for the first time," she said.

Sober for three years now, she is the admissions director at Chapter 5, a fully licensed treatment program that manages and owns its own housing.

At Chapter 5, everyone living in their homes must follow rules and stick to a schedule. That's what Hariford did when she was seeking treatment at Chapter 5.

"Having that daily routine that you have to get up everyday.. you have to make your bed, you have to sweep and mop the floor. That is how you form a habit.. repetition. Those things, if you do them every day.. that is how you form a habit is through repetition," she said.

And the house mangers at their men's home and women's home, which are located in residential neighborhoods, must meet strict guidelines.

"In this field in particular, working with people and vulnerable people, there should be base standards," said Peter Thomas of Chapter 5 Recovery. "There are many programs that have no requirements. Somebody may graduate their program and being sober themselves is the only credential for working there -- which is pretty concerning since you are working with a group of people that need oversight."

That is what Joey Martin needed and now his father is working to change the industry.

"When you have seven to eight addicts living in a home, there is nothing normal. It can all go downhill very fast," said Thomas.

Insurance companies are cracking down on sober homes. A recent investigation by a major insurer resulted in many sober homes closing their doors.