Scottsdale takes largely 'hands-off' approach on residential treatment houses/sober living homes

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Some people in Scottsdale say there should be regulation on "sober living homes." (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Some people in Scottsdale say there should be regulation on "sober living homes." (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
So in Scottsdale's new ordinance, capacity at sober living homes is down to six from 10. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) So in Scottsdale's new ordinance, capacity at sober living homes is down to six from 10. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Phoenix has the highest number of behavioral health facilities in the Valley and Prescott with 125. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Phoenix has the highest number of behavioral health facilities in the Valley and Prescott with 125. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

With the opioid crisis reaching epidemic proportions, neighborhoods all across Arizona are feeling the effects.

The explosion of both treatment homes and sober living homes embedded in single family streets has grabbed concern of nearby residents and the attention of city leaders.

In Scottsdale, a woman picking up her granddaughter was shocked to find out the school bus drops off kids right in front of two large homes where people are dealing with addiction. 

"This is scary to me. Sexual addictions and drug addictions and all types of people coming in," said the grandmother.

The homes on Turquoise Avenue and 128th Street are run by Promises, a treatment center who runs another home just down the block.

"Obviously, parents in the area weren't leaving their kids to be out," said Marilyn Reinfeld, who lives nearby.

Up until recently, there was another treatment center less than 400 feet away, and neighbors were alarmed.

"In the house over here, it was a heroin, opiate detox," describes Reinfeld. "We were very upset because now we knew the laws. We knew that another drug rehab was not supposed to be within 700-1000 feet."

[RELATED: Do you have these drugs in your medicine cabinet?]

The homes sit on 1-acre lots, where a lot full of cars are parked in the back.

White vans come and go and large commercial trucks partially block the narrow streets to deliver food.

There's an uneasy feeling with the neighbors.

"On any given day I could find people ringing my doorbell looking for 'The Rehab,'" explains Reinfeld.

The close proximity of care homes can be found in other parts of the city as well.

"In a two-block area, I think we have eight of them. It's too much," explains another woman who was afraid to be identified.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Opioid crisis in Arizona]

"I've been here 29 years now and what's happened to the neighborhood basically is we've got a lot of group homes coming in," she added.

In her experience, some of those homes are not without problems.

[SLIDESHOW: Two Arizona counties have high opioid prescription rates]

"The one time we were robbed, we went over to the rehab center, saying we know who did it and they said, 'Oh, those were the people and they already left.' They had parties out there. They would scream at each other, yelling obscenities. I couldn't sit in the backyard. There's absolutely no recourse," said the long-time resident.

She points out the transient nature of 30- to 90-day treatment plans raises another concern.

"I'll never know who those neighbors are because they constantly change," she explains.

Scottsdale reacts to sober living home concerns

In December, the City of Scottsdale changed up the rules.

"We had a very large turnout at the open houses," said Greg Bloemberg, a senior planner with the City.

It was in response to residents weary of group homes in their neighborhoods, hoping for more restrictions.

"I would say this is one of the most [sic] toughest, contentious issues I've had to deal with," said Bloemberg, who says the outcome was not what residents
were hoping for.

"I think a lot of people maybe begrudgingly understand that there's just not much we can do," explained Bloemberg.

The City of Scottsdale lumps all group care homes together. The majority are assisted-living homes and others are used for drug and alcohol treatment.

[INFOGRAPHIC: Numbers paint ]grim story in Arizona's opioid crisis]

As part of the new rules, these care homes must all be at least 1,200 feet apart, whereas before they could be as close as 500 to 750 feet apart.

Instead of the previous maximum of 10 people in a care home, the new ordinance now allows 12. That includes 10 residents plus two care workers who can all reside in a single family home.

All care homes are licensed by the state's health department.

The treatment centers can be found under "behavioral health facilities," where you can research inspections, complaints and actions taken.

Arizona lists 2,728 licensed care homes of which 406 are used to treat addiction.

In Scottsdale's 212 licensed care homes, about one in 10 are treatment facilities where the cost is often staggering.

"Treatment will go where the money is," explains Carey Davidson, an interventionist.

Questions raised over sober living homes

One major frustration with these big-money businesses embedded in neighborhoods is that nearby homeowners and families aren't told what's going on. The City of Scottsdale says it's not allowed.

[INFOGRAPHICS: Opioid deaths in AZ by age, race, type of opioids]

"These homes have a lot of protections," explains Bloemberg.

Bloemberg says the federal Fair Housing Act recognizes addiction as a disability so the City says they cannot discriminate and treat these homes any differently from any other single-family homes.

He said residents were most concerned about the influx of what are called, "sober living homes."

Unlike the residential treatment homes, there is no care and no supervision.

They can be found anywhere in Scottsdale and there's no easy way to tell how many of them there are.

According to interventionist Carey Davidson, a sober living home is where an addict goes to live after treatment to work on their sobriety.

"Definitely on the rise," Davidson says about the homes springing up to meet the demand of those who need help. "Oftentimes they're searching the internet, they're looking for places that can give them hope, can promise them help and healing, and it's not always the case."

He says some are well run and cause no issues in a neighborhood, but many are not. 

"I know that there's active using going on in some of these homes. Less rules, more problems," explains Davidson.

Whereas behavioral health facilities are licensed, the so-called, "sober homes" are not.  

"They can open a home with no regulations. There's nobody holding them accountable," explains Davidson.

That means there are no separation requirements and no standard of care. Many who open sober homes are former addicts.

"The cause becomes the business. But when the money starts flowing, that business becomes a racket," said Davidson.

"There's [sic] laws where people can just set up, rent a house oftentimes, bring people in. Say the house is $1,000 a month. They bring six people in, charge them $500 a month. They're making money and that's oftentimes the driving reason that they're doing the sober house under the guise of, 'Hey, we're gonna help people,'" Davidson explains.

Residents who showed up to the hearings last year turned out mostly for the City to regulate sober living homes. After all, a state law passed in 2016 allows cities to do that. But Scottsdale officials say at the risk of expensive discrimination lawsuits, that is not going to happen.

"We have to provide a single-family setting for sober living homes per federal law," explained Bloemberg.

So in Scottsdale's new ordinance, capacity was the only issue addressed for the sober living homes. The maximum residents allowed is now six, down from 10 previously. No one is going door-to-door to check for compliance. That will be up to residents.

"The only recourse right now is complaint. Either a neighbor makes a complaint or calls code enforcement," said Bloemberg.

At the hearings, he said Scottsdale police reported overall sober living homes were not causing more problems in city neighborhoods, leaving City leaders to speculate perception could be a big part of the issue.

"Everyone will agree that there is a problem, and these people need help. However, not in my backyard," said Davidson.

Phoenix has the highest number of behavioral health facilities in the Valley and Prescott with 125. Tempe had the lowest with five.

[INFOGRAPHIC: Number of facilities in Valley cities and Prescott]

However, Prescott has one facility for every 792 people while Tempe has one facility per 36,000 people.

State legislators on a mission

Across Arizona, cities have their own laws or are currently working toward regulations regarding both treatment homes and sober living homes.

State lawmakers are currently on a mission to establish a standard of care and get them all under the same regulations.

Two bills are in the works that address these issues and lawmakers are confident they will have new rules in place in the next few months. One of the bills is SB 1465.

Right now, it's up to the cities to regular the behavioral treatment facilities and sober living homes. The City of Phoenix said it currently working on its own ordinance to regulate these types of homes.

Tempe and Glendale don't allow "sober living homes" in single-family homes. Tempe said they are allowed in agricultural and multi-family zones with a permit. Glendale said the homes are allowed in "heavy commercial zoning districts."

For those wondering if there are licensed treatment homes in their neighborhoods, the Arizona Department of Health Services has a special tool on their website.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

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