In Adversity Lies Opportunity

By John Lehman

FARR was founded to enhance the quality of services offered by providers of peer supportive housing to those seeking freedom from the bondage of addiction. As an affiliate of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR), our board adopted a set of national standards developed through consensus by a group of NARR regional organizations spanning our nation from coast to coast. These forty-eight (48) standards, coupled with our Code of Ethics, are driven by four guiding principles to ensure FARR Certified Residences deliver on their promise to provide housing that remains:

1. Alcohol and drug free
2. Peer supportive
3. Safe, clean & dignified
4. A good neighbor and a responsible corporate citizen

As FARR President, I’ve had the opportunity to witness both the best and worst this industry has to offer the citizens of Florida. I can attest from first-hand experience as to the selflessness of many operators whose primary motivation is to serve those willing to take the actions necessary to right their lives and escape the hopelessness of addiction. I can also attest to the rampant greed of those whose motivation for entering the space is to capitalize on revenue opportunities through the systematic abuse of health care insurers.

While extreme examples can be found on either side of this spectrum, experience informs me that the vast majority of service providers seek to do the ‘right thing’ for those they serve while earning a reasonable return on their investments of time, energy and funds.

However; several concurrent factors now frustrate this group from achieving the goal to deliver quality services that both support their clients and deliver reasonable ROIs.

Recently, FARR was invited to attend a round table discussion presided over by US Representatives Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch. In addition to myself, FARR Board Members Michael Walsh, CEO/President of NAATP and George Jahn, owner of Sober Living in Delray, were listed under the heading “Advocates”. The remaining forty (40+) plus invitees were a combination of elected officials from state and local government and their supporters including city attorneys, Vice Mayors and representatives from various chapters of The Florida League of Cities. The focus of this round table discussion was specific: frustrated by FHAA and ADA barriers to enact and enforce discriminatory zoning ordinances that empower local governments to restrict the “proliferation of unregulated sober homes”, the assemblage sought support from representatives of US Congress to craft a joint statement to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) encouraging these two austere organizations to somehow restore municipal authority to discriminate against this protected class of disabled Americans.

To be fair, not every official invited to participate in the discussion was fully on board with that proposed mission and we three ‘advocates’ exited the two hour dialog with the conviction that there is indeed an opportunity to capitalize on what US Congressman Deutch recommended – that state and local policy makers engage in further discussion with industry leaders on our shared intention; to better inform the process of arriving at equitable solutions that balance the rights of persons recovering from addiction with those of the communities in which that restoration process takes place. Senator Maria Sachs (Senate District 34) and Representative Bill Hager (Florida House District 89) expressed their willingness to continue the dialog. We truly hope this willingness proves genuine. For over two years now FARR has repeatedly reached out to state officials in an attempt to address the real challenges facing the recovery residence and broader substance abuse treatment community. We’re prepared to recommend immediate remedies to heal much of what ails our community. Unfortunately; but for a few notable exceptions, we continually meet with disdain, inattention and a general unwillingness to discuss any question other than “how can you help us get these people out of our single family neighborhoods?”

Surely, the irony is obvious: FHAA and ADA are clearly necessary federal protections against local and state government discrimination. As was evidenced by this most recent round table discussion, far too few elected representatives of the public interest are concerned with improving the quality of services rendered to the estimated million plus Floridians who currently meet the substance abuse treatment criteria established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). It is up the voters concerned with ensuring that their loved ones have access to quality substance abuse services to send a message to these politicians who regrettably hear only from their NIMBY constituents. Our voice matters and our vote counts. Ask representatives running for public positions what their stance is on funding for substance abuse treatment programs.

Press them for details on their voting history in previous legislative sessions. Hold them accountable to become informed and to seek equitable solutions that protect both our communities and the rights of those afflicted with behavior health disorders. November 4th is fast approaching. Exercise your right to cast a vote for the
candidates who demonstrate their commitment to issues that matter most to the quality of your life.