Recovery Homes: What Nick Sortal Would Do
A heartbreaking moment occurred late Wednesday night at the Plantation City Council meeting, when Michelle Fein, a very frustrated Plantation Acres resident, spoke of two young adults jumping over her backyard fence and hiding from police, only feet away from her house.
They live less than a block away in a halfway house designed to help those with drug addiction issues get back on their feet. Except this house isn’t being managed well, Mrs. Fein testified. She told council members that she and other neighbors are afraid to let their children and grandchildren outside to play.
A couple of moments later at the meeting, residents in the Royal Palm community shared news that a property in their neighborhood has a van of workers arriving each night to convert a home so it can house multiple residents. The city says it has received indication it is going to be a home for assisted living for older people, but neighbors presented evidence suggesting it is similar to the Plantation Acres house.
Yes, companies that operate recovery houses have discovered Plantation. Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic stated there are six sober homes here now. These homes have state and federal protection to exist.
It’s a city’s job to keep unqualified recovery homes out of Plantation. And ensure with good regulations that the good ones don’t disrupt our neighborhoods.
As a candidate in the November election for Plantation City Council, this topic has been rolling around in my head since I first met Mrs. Fein a month ago at a Plantation Acres HOA meeting. If I’m fortunate enough to earn a council seat, what would I do?
The quick answer: Mirror what other cities have already done. NOW! We can put a moratorium on more homes arriving and we can require them to register with a watchdog agency.
Boynton Beach and Delray Beach have given us the road map. (Unfortunately, their good work has likely prompted the weaker companies to relocate to Broward County.)
First off, Plantation can issue a temporary moratorium on sober homes, something Boynton Beach did in January of 2017, until we establish the tightest rules possible. Because of legalities, it can only be temporary, and even then we might get a legal challenge. But it is worth it. And Boynton Mayor Steven Grant at the time pointed out that the moratorium can hold up because it is against a business, not against the addicts themselves.
Most importantly, immediately – like at the next meeting — need to copy Delray’s ordinance requiring group homes to be licensed through a regulatory entity such as the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, a Boca Raton-based organization. FARR also has a grievance portal for residents to report any home such as the one near Mrs. Fein. The group compiles data about homes in order to protect the name, and the cause, of the good ones. FYI: No Plantation home is in FARR’s database.
I also see us copying Delray’s measure that tightened parking requirements, such as preventing front yards from being paved to accommodate more cars per home.
Plantation city leaders on Wednesday correctly pointed out challenges. Recovering addicts are counted as disabled under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the disabled are protected from housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Congress would need to change these laws for any further regulation of sober homes. The mayor encouraged Plantation residents to write their legislators – a suggestion that didn’t sit well with those understandably rattled by events in their neighborhood and deserve immediate action. (Hey, it could happen to me. Or you.) And, to be fair, our state leaders enacted laws to prevent companies from over-promising treatment plans that feel more like a free trip to the beach.
The larger issue
I visited the Plantation Acres home on Friday, and had a heartfelt talk with Ricky, the 28-year-old house manager, and three other 20-ish residents – all in early stages of recovery.
“Man, I bet the neighbors hate us,” he said. “But we try to keep to ourselves, and want to get back on our feet.” The Fein backyard incident was caused by two now-evicted people still using drugs, he says, and the remaining residents debated apologizing to the neighbors, but thought best to just stay quiet. (The problem I see there is that a home such as this should have at least a middle-aged person with recovery experience in charge, not someone who himself is only now treading down that rocky road.)
And, as a leader of the city when dealing with issues, I would go knock on doors and look people in the eye. Like I did. Good basketball referees say they often try to “talk players out of the foul,” i.e., let them know to cool it or the whistle is coming. That’s something I believe in – and would do – but when the laws are broken, the police enforcement hammer has got to come down.
In this case a police officer lives across the street, which Ricky, the house manager, welcomes.
“But our first step is to police ourselves,” Ricky said. “We have zero tolerance. We don’t want to let each other down.”
South Florida is the recovery capital of the world. Those with alcohol, drug or other issues across the country are referred to the Sunshine State to seek help. The opioid epidemic has accelerated the business, and a practice known as patient brokering has made it a good business. So, our city leaders should have seen this thundercloud approaching.
Give me a second for a disclaimer: I’m a huge believer in helping people get back on their feet. Our society is a better one because we give people second chances. And many of these sober homes do very good work.
The sober homes are only part of what we need to address. The rental scene is also changing – just Google “Plantation” and “Airbnb.” So I can tell you this: If I were a city leader, I would be on this right now, and it would be a No. 1 priority. As my mom used to say, “You can only kill monsters when they are still small.”
Go to NickSortal.com to see why I would be a very good council member, and follow my page on Facebook. And I know you’ve left Facebook, but if you click back, share this article if you agree with what I’m saying.
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