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‘Sober home’ regulations sorely needed

Last week’s arrest of a substance-abuse recovery home operator who has been at the center of a recent dispute in Port Norfolk is just the latest bad turn for the so-called “sober home” community in the Commonwealth— and another sign that this budding industry needs more regulation – quickly – from state officials.

While the allegations remain unproven in a court of law, a grand jury indictment last week accused Carl Smith, 61, with taking kickbacks in exchange for falsifying drug screenings of clients at his sober homes. It’s not clear if a Port Norfolk operation that Smith has been running is included in the charges, but the fact that he has been indicted underlines the reasonable concerns of neighbors, who first raised alarms about the Lorenzo Street house at a civic meeting last month.

Neighbors in Port Norfolk and elsewhere in Dorchester know very well that our own community definitely needs transitional sober housing — if only to help the large population within our own borders that struggles with the scourge of addiction.

There are many established and well-run sober homes across the neighborhood that operate quietly and with no negative impact whatsoever on abutters. These homes should not be lumped into one pile and discarded because some bad actors have allegedly been running amok with theirs.

Instead, the state needs to follow through on what it has already said it would do: Earlier this year, the Reporter and Watchdog New England published the results of an in-depth probe into sober homes in the city. This investigation found that local authorities have virtually no regulatory control over sober homes. Alarmingly, neither city nor state government officials could say with any certainty how many such homes exist in our neighborhoods— although our reports suggested that there are at least 60 homes in operation within the city of Boston— including roughly a dozen in Dorchester.

Last year, the Legislature ordered a study of the industry that is due to be completed by the end of this year. Until that report’s findings are in — and the scope of the problem outlined with new regulations adopted— perhaps it’s best if all pending operations like the one in Port Norfolk be put on hold.

Neighbors deserve a full accounting of how such transitional housing is managed and whether they are operating legally and with proper oversight, or if they are taking advantage of loopholes in state laws to make money by warehousing vulnerable people. Our neighborhoods desperately need well-run facilities for our own folks who are recovering in good faith. Our state officials need to expedite guidelines and laws that will help all sides by providing a more focused and earnest approach to the industry.
– Bill Forry