Florida has long been home to some of the finest recovery homes in the nation; residences operated by ethical management who are singularly focused on the well-being of those they serve. Regrettably, Florida is also home to a significant number of so called “halfway houses” managed by operators whose primary motivation is simply to fill beds. Both groups compete for referrals from the same Residential Treatment providers, Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). Both market themselves through the use of professionally designed websites, full color brochures and ‘feet on the street’ marketers who personally call on these referral sources to extol the virtues of the properties they represent. These marketers speak the language of recovery. They know all the right buzzwords and their programs all sound great! So; how can the therapists and counselors who make these referrals know which one is best suited for their client? Until recently they were dependent solely upon past experience and a “gut feeling” to guide their referral. The Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) has emerged as a central repository of reliable, objective and comprehensive data regarding transitional living facilities throughout the state.
As a founding board member of the National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR), Nancy Steiner led the charge to establish standards for Recovery Residences here in Florida. FARR (Florida Association of Recovery Residences) has quickly gained momentum and support from all facets of the recovery community. She states, “We’re reaching out to treatment centers to collaborate as part of a continuum of care, and to identify those homes and programs throughout our state that meet FARR standards.” FARR has accomplished much in its infancy. Their website, http://farronline.org is now up and operational. Of the first nineteen applicants, seven have completed the submission of required documentation supporting compliance with FARR standards and have passed a rigorous onsite review by a team of independent inspectors trained by NARR. Several more are scheduled for inspection next month, including residences in Broward, Volusia and Pinellas counties. Caron-Hanley Foundation has volunteered to hold an educational gathering for treatment executives late next month at which the FARR Board will present their case for a unified approach to this continuum of care that necessitates channeling referrals solely to those residences who are members in good standing of FARR.
As a Board Member and the Outreach Chair of FARR, John Lehman states “While our goals are ambitious; we’ll achieve them over time. FARR is establishing itself as the certification source upon which both the private and public sectors rely. We do not hold, nor do we seek, the authority to close down operators who fail to meet our standards. Our integrity hinges on providing quality and reliable information concerning programs we have confirmed do meet our standards.” FARR requires each of its members to publish and provide a clear “grievance procedure” to their residents that escalates, when necessary, to FARR and, if yet unresolved, to NARR. When a program is found deficient in one area or another, they are provided the opportunity to raise that particular standard to become compliant. Most owner/ operators welcome this guidance and support. A network of volunteers is busy at work behind the scenes developing training programs, policy & procedure manuals and other support facilities to assist members in their efforts to provide a solid, transitional environment for those in early recovery. Most of FARR’s members have been engaged at the front-line for decades. This further enhances the wealth of experience available through affiliation with the national organization. NARR now represents over 1,900 recovery residences with a combined capacity of 25,000 beds nationwide and anticipates it will cross the 50,000 milestone during 2013. As impressive as these figures are, they fall far short of the demand which is conservatively estimated at over a quarter of a million beds. This means, among many other things, that there’s no real competition. There is an immediate need for additional recovery homes that truly focus on providing a safe, nurturing ‘sober’ environment for their residents. Existing operators are continually expanding and, even while doing so, are welcoming new startups with open arms provided they’re prepared to ‘do it right’ from the onset.
FARR Membership is not limited to recovery residences. The ‘Friends of FARR’ program includes a law firm, numerous treatment providers, an academic certification facility, a merchant services provider, web designer and several recovery coaches. The front door is wide open to those who have a genuine interest in supporting the association and its members. Many of these associate members have donated both time and funds to help FARR gain momentum. Service is a core principle of recovery and it is abundant throughout the organization. I myself am an active Friend of FARR, serving on the Membership Committee and inspecting the facilities of prospective members.
The FARR Advisory Board is comprised of professionals from a broad spectrum; including residential treatment executives, licensed therapists, law enforcement personnel, civic and business leaders, vocational educators and recovery residence owner/operators. This wealth of experience positions the association to carry the message of standard-based care within and without the organization. FARR has begun to reach out to local and state level government officials, the media and the community at large to educate those willing to listen about recovery. For too long; the public dialog has focused on issues related to the problems caused by addiction. That dialog incites fear, encourages debate and generally divides participants into disparate camps. The discussion worthy of promotion is all about Recovery. It’s a message of unity; how together we can save lives by forging alliances that build bridges rather than tear them down. For those once enslaved by addiction there is hope and healing to be found in the continuum of care offered through Recovery Residences.
There are currently four levels of care that members can apply to provide services at – Levels I-IV. Level I facilities have the least amount of structure and supervision, while Level IV have the most. It is important that people realize that in the past there has been no licensing for sober houses and no agencies to monitor and oversee them. While treatment centers all need to be licensed by the state and comply with a multitude of policies and procedures and standards, sober houses have been free to operate completely unaccountable to anyone.
One of the purposes of FARR and ASI (of which I am Executive Director), is to provide quality assurance to the consumers, who are usually Addicts who have just been discharged from treatment. Anyone just being discharged from treatment or just looking for the best sober living environment for them should call us at ASI and we will provide you with our list of preferred sober living facilities throughout the tri-county area and beyond. We also are fortunate to have sober houses which are affiliated with treatment centers which provide I.O.P. (Intensive Outpatient Program) where that is deemed necessary.
Myles B. Schlam, J.D.,CAP/CCJAP
Advocare Solutions, Inc.- Executive Director
*Myles B. Schlam is a nationally recognized expert in Drug Addiction and the Criminal Justice System and an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. He is one of 100+ Criminal Justice Addiction Professionals (CCJAP) in the State of Florida. Mr. Schlam graduated from the St. Thomas University School of Law in 2002. ASI is licensed by the Florida Department of Children and Families and operates in Palm Beach and Broward Counties.
**Special thanks to John Lehman, a Friend of FARR and active committee member for
his extensive and critical input for this article.