Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 28th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I've always had a strong belief that we perform a wonderful service for whatever community we're in. Our program offers housing, food, employment services, and peer counseling for recovering addicts and alcoholics – 95% of them homeless. A further benefit to the community is that we don't receive tax dollars for the service we perform. Our revenue comes from fees we charge our clients and several small businesses we operate.

Among these are convenience stores, a hotel, Christmas tree lots, and a car wash. These businesses not only provide a modicum of revenue, they also serve as training programs for our clients.

Although it has happened before, I'm still dismayed when we receive legal challenges from the government. Most of the time we've won these battles. But even on the occasions where we won the legal battle, we've lost in several other ways. We wasted valuable time dealing with attorneys and the paperwork that comes with lawsuits. And the expenses associated with legal issues drain our resources.

Aside from the tangible issues it takes a while for me to adjust emotionally and psychologically when people try to run us out of a neighborhood. Don't they understand what a good service we perform? Don't they know that we save the government money? Aren't we helping solve the problem of homelessness? After this seesaw battle in my head calms down, I realize that my expectations are too high.

It is unreasonable for me to expect the average person to understand substance-abuse. Non-alcoholics say things like "stop drinking!" Or, "just quit using!" Today I realize that they're not haters. They are just uninformed. They are about as informed about alcoholism as I am about cancer or diabetes. I'm uneducated about the causes and cures of these diseases.

So how can I expect people in a community to understand the need for halfway houses, or sober living facilities?

Today's topic came up apropos to legal action taken against our organization by the state of Nevada. A while back they asked us to seek licensing for the hundred plus beds we have in Las Vegas. Since we've been operating there for 15 years with a license as an apartment complex we had an immediate reaction to their request. We called our attorney.

We actually have no problem seeking licensing. We have licenses in several cities in Arizona. But the licenses we're required to get in Arizona are reasonable, and seem to serve legitimate government interests. We believe the license they're asking us to get in Nevada is very invasive and Draconian.

The state is asking us to do such things as employ managers who have no criminal record. They want us to keep files on each client as if we were a treatment program. They want sprinkler systems in the buildings. The list of requirements go on and on. And while their implementation might provide the ultimate in safety for people who can't take care of themselves they have little relevance to our clients.

Our clients are recovering addicts and alcoholics. All of them are ambulatory. They are like any other citizens who live together for a common interest. Families live together because they're related. Our clients live together because they have a different type of relationship: they are recovering substance abusers. They band together for mutual support.

At this writing we are filing a complaint with HUD, which is a precursor to further litigation. Will we win or lose? The reality is that we will all lose.

The State of Nevada will be wasting taxpayer money. And our organization will be wasting resources we could use to help our clients maintain their sobriety.