Jim Chard won’t soon forget the day he realized that recovering and relapsing drug addicts were overrunning his neighborhood.
Pulling into his Osceola Park home one day, he nearly ran over one of them lying in front of his garage.
“I shook the person and he came awake,” Chard said. “Turns out, he had been found the day before in a parking lot off Atlantic Avenue and taken to Bethesda” Hospital East.
The person was among a group of newcomers to Delray, staying in single-family homes now housing a different kind of family: addicts on their first step out of treatment.
However, conditions that once made Delray Beach the nation’s relapse capital have dramatically improved in the past year, Chard and others will tell you. Opioid overdose deaths in Palm Beach County are on track to decrease by at least a third. And multiple cities are looking at taking the municipal-level step that cleaned up Delray.
It’s part of a multi-pronged effort, including:
— An that resulted in the arrest of dozens and the exposure of millions of dollars in insurance fraud, arresting the proliferation of “” in the industry.
— A to more closely regulate the drug recovery industry.
— And, still unfolding, between recovery residences or “sober homes.”
About a year ago, Delray was the first city in the area to dictate that no sober home should be more than 660 feet — or about one city block — from another. also adopted similar rules.
So far, one house has asked to be exempt from the distance rule and the Delray Beach City Commission will be asked to grant special permission to “Stepping Stones” in the coming months, even though it’s less than 660 feet away from a similar house for recovering addicts.
Here are some questions you might have about the industry and attempts at regulation.
Q: What are sober homes?
A. They are residences, often in neighborhoods of single-family homes, where addicts come together to support one other on the road to recovery. Research has shown that mimicking the structure of a family helps recovering addicts return to a normal life.
But a high density of these homes in the any one area has created issues in a number of city neighborhoods, leading to resident outcries about parking, trash and unfamiliar, shifting characters in the neighborhood, some vulnerable to relapse.
A report found in June that 168 recovering addicts were living on one block in the city.
Q: How did this become a thing in South Florida?
A: Experts will tell you that the way plummeting real estate values in the area coincided with the nation’s created conditions ripe for the so-called to flourish here. And the industry could do it largely under the radar.
Before new regulations went into place, addicts could come to a sober home with no more regulation than a typical landlord-tenant situation. Federal law treats addiction as a disability protected from housing discrimination.
Q. So what are cities doing to keep too many of these homes from coming to one place?
A. Marc Woods, a Delray Beach code enforcement officer and former police lieutenant in the city, said it’s a matter of balancing rights.
“You shouldn’t discriminate against those who are trying to recover from their substance abuse problem,” he said. “But there are also rights for people who want to enjoy the peace and quiet of their family neighborhood.”
Cities have begun to tip-toe into requiring that if more than three unrelated adults live in one residence for the purpose of recovery, they must meet certain conditions, including adhering to the distance requirement and registering with the voluntary registry the state started in 2011, the Florida Association for Recovery Residences.
When no immediate, legal challenge emerged to Delray’s first-of-its kind rules, and Pompano Beach soon followed suit to start regulating the industry in their cities.
The existing sober homes in those cities have a year to comply and register.
Daniel Lauber, an attorney in the Greater Chicago area, helped Delray Beach craft its rules, and then Fort Lauderdale and Pompano. He’s confident that they won’t be found to discriminate against people who have struggled with drug addiction. In 40 years of crafting these sorts of ordinances, none have been tossed out in Florida.
“There is no earthly reason you wouldn’t require certification for recovery homes,” Lauber said.
Now he’s working with West Palm Beach, Oakland Park, and Lauderhill to help city leaders adopt the same rules about registration and sober home proximity for their cities.
But Scott Tompkins, who runs four sober homes in South Florida, including the home asking for an exception to Delray’s rule, said he thinks his clients are being discriminated against. He doesn’t think he should have to go in front of the City Commission and ask to operate as a sober home within 660 feet of another.
“I’ve had a lot of spectacular recoveries coming out of my house,” he said.
He realizes, though, people are already lining up to ask the City Commission to deny permission.
“They just don’t like sober houses,” he said.
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