Attorney: Recovery houses protected

Federal law treats addicted as handicapped

Tribune Chronicle / Renee Fox Warren Township Trustee Edward Anthony, stands near a recently opened recovery house off North Leavitt Road. Anthony said he and other residents have concerns about the house even though no problems have been reported since it opened in February.

Homes where people in the recovery process stay after detoxing are becoming more numerous and have stirred up controversy in one local neighborhood where township officials have an attorney researching their options.

“The goal is to get them shut down,” said Edward Anthony, Warren Township trustee.

Two recovery homes owned by FSR Parkman, which operates a nearby detoxification and treatment facility on Enterprise Drive, are in a residential neighborhood off North Leavitt Road. One of the homes has been operating since February, while another is scheduled to open soon.

While Anthony acknowledges no issues have been reported and Warren Township police Chief Don Bishop said there have been no calls to the house, Anthony said the homes change the nature of the quiet neighborhood and make residents uncomfortable. He also said he isn’t happy that officials weren’t made aware of the plans to the open the homes until one of them was already operating.

“We aren’t against these homes, we understand they are necessary and we hope people are getting the help they need in them. But, we feel there are better places to put these homes and the neighbors should have a say in it,” Anthony said.

However, communities that start implementing and enforcing special regulations against homes for people being treated for substance use disorders risk violating federal laws, said Greg Hicks, Warren’s law director.

“Individuals who are recovering from addiction to alcohol and drugs, whether you agree with it or not, are considered disabled by the federal government. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they have the same rights as the mentally disabled. You can’t treat them differently than anyone else and have to give them reasonable accommodations. You can’t zone them out of a neighborhood any more than you can zone out the ramps a handicapped person might need,” Hicks said. “It’s not because Greg Hicks said so, it’s not because the county or city council says so. It’s because federal law trumps local laws.”

Hicks said he researched the topic closely before determining Warren shouldn’t create special regulations for the homes.

“You can’t zone them out; they aren’t a treatment center; they aren’t being treated there. It is a place to reside, with structure, that increases their chances of not being recidivists, and assist them in maintaining a normal and healthy lifestyle,” Hicks said.

Anthony said because the homes are staffed whenever clients are there, including overnight, and the residents aren’t permanent residents but are there as part of a corporation’s business model, he believes the township should be able to regulate where the homes can be and hopes the township’s attorney will come up with a opinion that will allow trustees to move forward with a law to do that.

Some communities ave passed laws and regulations and haven’t been met with lawsuits because they haven’t enforced the laws, Hicks said.

“I understand the concerns of neighbors and the issues they bring up. But they also have to understand that as long as folks are in recovery, they are entitled to protection. If they aren’t recovering diligently, if they get into drugs or alcohol, they can lose that protection,” Hicks said.

Cindy Woodford, consulting director for FSR Parkman, said the company and First Step Recovery, of which she is CEO and FSR Parkman is modeled after, has a responsible track record.

“Not all of these houses are run the same, some do not have the same professional standards. And we have problems with those too. If the homes are supervised properly, than the residents can’t be held accountable. Accountability is a big part of our programs,” Woodford said.

After detoxing at the facility for five to seven days, the residents come to live at the home for an average of about a month. During their time in “extended care,” they are driven daily to treatment at the main facility, where they spend most of the day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. They are not allowed visitors.

“When they are there, they are there to sleep,” Woodford said.

Bishop said he has increased patrolling in the area, and hasn’t noticed any issues.

“We understand most people have heard a story, or been personally affected by a crime someone committed while addicted. But if they are here, they are not here against their will. They are here to get better and get over the type of behavior they’ve exhibited before. And if they aren’t working toward that, they won’t be in the program, or in the home,” Woodford said.

Hicks said the issue is being debated in communities across the country.

Later this month, he is attending a conference for municipal attorneys, where the topic is the first item on the agenda.

“This isn’t a Warren problem, or a county problem. It isn’t a state problem. It is a national problem. We are all thinking of the best solutions for our communities,” Hicks said.