A city council election here in Mesa, Arizona recently made headlines when a 23 year old won one of the open seats. It was interesting to our organization because one of the the winner's first public pronouncements was that he was looking at the "concentration" of halfway houses in the city. His statement demonstrates his youth and ignorance of the history about the so-called halfway house "issue" in this city.
The Mesa halfway house "issue" landed in Federal court in 1998, when the new councilman was around 10 years old. After some five years of litigation, the city modified three laws and gave a $40,000 check to Transitional Living Communities to reimburse legal expenses.
I'm never surprised when a politician panders to his constituency. The constituency in this instance consists, at least partly, of some of Mesa's old-line conservative religious groups. Members of this group reveal their bias in public statements like, "we have more than our fair share" of halfway houses or "we really like what you guys do, we just wish you would do it somewhere else." One of them actually told me one time that I “didn't get it.” He went on to say, “We just don't want you here.” I'm not sure how this attitude squares with one of the great admonitions in Christianity: “Love they neighbor as thyself.”
Sadly, the young councilman is attacking one group in the city that provides a genuine public service at no cost to the taxpayer. Had he taken ten minutes to visit the SAMSHA website he would have learned how alcoholism and drug addiction affects about 15% of the United States population. Since Mesa has over 400,000 residents, there's a statistical probability that some of his constituents might need our services.
Something else the neophyte councilman might have considered is that even recovering drug addicts like to go to restaurants and movies and buy new clothes. They spend for services that generate tax dollars for a city that has a cash flow problem.
Some constituencies with a moral viewpoint think that if they just get rid of the halfway houses the so-called “problem” will go away. And maybe if we close the hospitals and clinics people won't get cancer. The American Medical Association has long recognized alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease. That's why the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act also protect addicts.
We are treated as any other disabled person.