Four Bills Propose to Shut Down California’s Sober Houses

Published on November 30th, 2016

February of this year might have been the beginning of the end for addiction treatment facilities in the state of California. Four bills have been proposed that if passed, will effectively shut down the majority of Californian sober houses. Their wording makes it seem as if the bills are meant to provide a safer environment, but one good look and anyone can see what’s really going on. The stigma against addicts continues.

The residents of three rather high-class cities, Malibu, Bel Air, and Newport, want the recovering addicts out, and the politicians who represent them have listened. If the bills become law, not only will the recovering addicts be out of those three affluent neighborhoods, they will have nowhere.malibu-beach-sober-homes

This is all rather ironic to be happening in the state that provides the nation’s most addiction treatment facilities. Let’s look at the four bills themselves, what they propose, and how they would affect California’s population of recovering addicts. Then let’s take a brief look at California’s stance on addiction recovery throughout history. Finally, let’s compare what would happen if these bills were made law with the deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities in America in the 1980s.

The Bills

Each of the four bills proposes its own technical change, masked as a benefit for society. All together, these four bills have the power to shut down addiction treatment in the state. These bills are AB 2255, AB 2772, SB 1283, and the worst one of all, AB 2403. (AB stands for Assembly Bill). Let’s see what the current law is regarding each bill, and then what they propose to change.

AB 2255

Currently, the State Department of Social Services provides the necessary licenses for operating an addiction recovery center. An independent facility could apply with the department and be approved.

AB 2255 proposes that each facility must “maintain an affiliation with a recognized national organization, approved by the department…” The bill also calls for a zero-tolerance policy regarding those who falter in the homes. This means that treatment centers must now be affiliated with state-approved organizations, or else shut down. This would be like you owning a restaurant and then the state telling you that you had to become a Denny’s.

What’s worse is that part of the fact sheet for this bill quoted the Police Chief of Costa Mesa, who apparently said that crimes went up 33% due to the high number of sober houses in the city. However, zero evidence exists to back this claim up.

AB 2772

Sometimes defendants must be put into drug treatment programs as a result of a judge’s ruling, a probation or parole condition, or due to a violation. Currently, as long as the treatment facility is registered with the State Department of Health Care Services, defendants may enter into a facility of his or her choice.

AB 2772 proposes that “a person seeking treatment… because he or she has been ordered or required to participate” must do so at a facility both licenses by the department and “in compliance with the local laws…” If the local laws change as per the other three bills, this would mean that a defendant would be forced to seek treatment at a facility owned, operated, and maintained by the state. This just puts more control over where and how large ‘legal’ treatment facilities would be.

SB 1283

As mentioned, treatment facilities must currently obtain licenses through the state. Once legal and legitimate, the day-to-day operations are individual. However, hidden in the fine print of this bill is something that can change that fact. SB 1283 proposes that all Californian treatment facilities have a state-established operation plan. Also, the bill includes this oddly worded phrase:

“A city, county, or city and county that adopts health and safety standards and enforcement mechanisms for structured sober living homes pursuant to subdivision (a) may exclude from regulation any structured sober living home that is subject to adequate oversight by another governmental entity or contractor that meets or exceeds the requirements of this chapter.

One can only interpret this to mean that if a local area doesn’t like a facility, they can cite that it has ‘oversights,’ and then the facility would be subject to the state’s judgment. Essentially, the bill exerts even further control over treatment facilities. These three bills pale in comparison to the power of AB 2403, though. Consider these three to be nails for the coffin of Californian sober houses. AB 2403 is the hammer that drives them in.

Assembly Bill 2403:  Nail in the Coffin

The potential damage of this bill can be summed up by one word: overconcentration. If made law, the bill would prohibit any two treatment centers to be within 300 feet of one another, even if owned by the same company. Because the overwhelming majority of treatment centers have more than one property on the same grounds, ‘overconcentration,’ as the bill calls it, would effectively shut down a gross amount of facilities in the state.

For those facilities that remain after the ‘overconcentration’ is fixed, AB 2403 also includes a section on ‘integral facilities.’ As defined by the bill, an integral facility is “any combination of 2 or more facilities located on the same or different parcels… that are under the control or management of the same entity, as specified, or which together comprise one operation or enterprise.”

Say Jack’s company owns and operates two different sober houses in California, hundreds of miles apart. If they are under the same management, they could be shut down. If they have the same food service, they could be shut down. Even if they share an independent consultant, they could be shut down. Currently in California, only one license is required for someone like Jack. However, this bill would make it so each facility required a license, and because of the ‘integral facility’ part, they would likely be denied.

These four bills all appeared the same day in February, seemingly out of nowhere. The fact that California is the state proposing them is odd. The state has a long history of being a haven where people can heal.

California: Land with Healing Powers

Extending as far back as the 1890s, California has long been known as the state of healing. Whether that’s from sunshine and ocean or professional treatment, the state has proven rather helpful in the face of affliction. For example, the discovery of a cure for tuberculosis (TB), and the setting up of sanitariums in California, made the state’s population increase from 11,000 to 100,000 in just two decades. Sanitariums, originally intended to house those being treated for TB and other such supposedly incurable disorders, eventually evolved into psychiatric treatment facilities. This was the birth of the mental hospital.

Over the next several decades, more and more people were entered into such facilities, hoping to be cured of innumerable diseases. By 1938, one in 170 Americans lived inside one of these homes. “The healing culture of California remained on the cutting edge of treating populations deemed untreatable.” Then, in 1981, everything changed.

Deinstitutionalization: Reagan’s Repeal

As new medicines and therapies began to be introduced, the mental health institutions closed. As a last-ditch effort of sorts to preserve the institution, then-president Jimmy Carter passed the Mental Health Systems Act in 1980. The act gave government funding to mental health institutions, in hopes to continue helping those with severe mental disabilities. The next year, Ronald Reagan became president, and repealed the act completely. Responsibility for the maintenance of mental health care facilities nationwide went from the federal government to individual states. This was the final step in a process called deinstitutionalization, which essentially phases out an entire industry.

In 1981, most communities did not have community-based mental health services, such as sober houses or substance abuse treatment facilities. Therefore, as said by Health Affairs, “Massive deinstitutionalization… contributed to neglect of people with mental illnesses and homelessness.” In California, and many other places, the aftermath of this neglectful process left many people with mental illnesses either helplessly stranded or homeless, or both. In many ways, if the four current bills are passed, 2016 will be another year of deinstitutionalization.

Then and Now

California is home to 3.5 million substance abusers. There are about 1,500 substance abuse treatment facilities in the state, as well as about 1,000 sober houses. Even if the average facility housed twenty people, a lot for a facility, that would still leave 3.45 million Californians in need of help. 90% of those in need of treatment do not seek it. Even considering that only 10% of Californians with a substance abuse problem are in a recovery program, 300,000 people currently in treatment will be forced out if these bills are made law.

What do these lawmakers believe will happen if 300,000 addicts already in treatment are simply released? The chances are it would not be good. Homelessness would increase, and many people on a path to sobriety would relapse. The passing of these four bills would have very similar effects to the deinstitutionalization of the 1970s and 1980s. The amount of residential treatment beds in mental hospitals went from 413,000 to 63,000 from 1970 to 1998, according to the Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.

Best Reason to Not Pass Bills

If you remember from earlier in this article, the police chief of Costa Mesa, California said that crime had gone up 33% due to having too many addiction recovery facilities, without any proof to back it up. Well, not only is there actual proof that he was wrong, but there is actual proof that having addiction recovery facilities is beneficial to the community.

A study performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University concluded that not only does the presence of addiction recovery centers not make places more dangerous; it may make them safer. The researchers analyzed crime statistics in locations both high and low on facilities. What they found was that “community members should be more worried about liquor stores than drug treatment centers.” They meant it, too. The crime produced by the presence of a liquor store outweighs the crime produced by the presence of a drug treatment facility. Now, find me a town without a liquor store.

Another study, performed by researchers at DePaul University, attempted to show that higher-occupancy sober homes are more beneficial to communities than lower-occupancy sober homes. The results? “Larger houses had fewer problems related to conduct disorder/aggression, and criminal activity.”

Addiction treatment facilities do not increase crime. In fact, the larger the facility, the better it is for the community. Unbelievable, then, that these California lawmakers want to essentially shut the system down.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, there simply seems to be no good reason to pass these bills. Still, somehow, the state assembly passed them almost unanimously.

There is a term called NIMBY, which stands for ‘not in my backyard.’ It is meant to express the feeling people have when they simply do not want something near their residences. NIMBY could apply to a swamp, or as in some wealthier parts of southern California, NIMBY could apply to human beings attempting to make their own lives better. This prejudice against addicts needs to stop, this stigma against addicts. Everyone knows someone affected by drug addiction. Why, then, are we on the verge of completely resetting drug addicts over thirty years on the west coast? One can only hope the bills do not become law.

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