On Feb. 20 the Costa Mesa City Council denied permits to three sober living homes on the basis of a relatively new ordinance that requires facilities to be more than 650 feet from each other.
The ordinance is a good first step toward getting a handle on the proliferation of sober living homes in our neighborhoods. It prevents the over-concentration of these facilities and, as several speakers described it, the "institutionalization of our neighborhoods."
I understand the challenge they pose for neighbors and the creeping quality of life issues. Before my husband and I bought our house by the fairgrounds, we lived next to one of these places on Cabrillo Street. We regularly dealt with secondhand smoke wafting into our living room and with cars and 16-passenger vans coming and going throughout the day. It was also a challenge to work from home: when your neighbors are 12 men, it was hard to tell when inappropriate conversation might make into a conference call.
There is more to this issue than simply nuisance complaints, however. The recent reporting on abuses in the sober living home industry indicate that some of these places are engaging in what amounts to human trafficking while manipulating the insurance industry to maximize profits. When insurance runs out, or a patient relapses, they're sometimes tossed into the street, a practice so common that there's a term for it: "curbing." Undoubtedly, there is a real need for treatment facilities and safe places for the newly sober to continue their recovery but the current system has created an environment that is bad for both patients and residents.
While the Costa Mesa ordinance alleviates some neighborhood overconcentration, the root of many of these problems lie at the state and federal levels.
Unfortunately, many of the legislators at those levels have struggled to understand the extent of our concerns in Costa Mesa. We must build our case by adequately documenting every possible piece of evidence of both nuisance and abuse. Every police and fire interaction with sober living homes and the residents who live in those homes must be accounted for. Every resident should be calling (714) 754-5623 to report noise or property maintenance concerns.
The Network for Homeless Solutions regularly reports statistics related to their task; perhaps City Council could do the same as it relates to the sober living home industry. We should be using every possible method and resource to document the extent of sober living home proliferation in our city; only then will anyone at the state or federal level recognize the need for reform and only then will we start to see some real change.