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Commentary: Orange County group homes require far greater regulation and oversight

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, shown here in Irvine in 2016, is calling for greater oversight of sober living homes.
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, shown here in Irvine in 2016, is calling for greater oversight of sober living homes.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors passed a budget item June 12 that allows for a $741,094 expenditure to investigate and prosecute the growing scourge of fraudulent group homes.

Just as I have fervently fought for residents who don’t want to live near a homeless shelter, I have also struggled to keep criminals and sex offenders from congregating in these homes, which are often in close proximity to children, the elderly and decent, hard-working families.

For the record:

12:45 PM, Jun. 20, 2018An earlier version of this commentary incorrectly stated that the California Department of Social Services has the final approval of overseeing group homes. Sober living and residential group homes are not under the purview of the department.

This dates to 2005, when I was in the state Assembly and authored a bill that would have created a sex offender management board. This would have regulated the placement and group housing of some 100,000 released sex offenders. Although I obtained bipartisan support for Assembly Bill 632, it did not pass.

Since then, I have constantly advocated to have the state allow for local control to police these group homes, which often attract crime, drug abuse and fraud. Our tone deaf Legislature has not allowed this to happen.

Admittedly, not every group home resident has a rap sheet. Some are victims themselves, trying to get help. This is where another criminal element has taken hold: fraudulent operators who run these businesses as a mill, getting rich off various government subsidies and insurance payouts.

One option where we can make a difference is to vigorously prosecute mill operators with fraud.

Here in Orange County, six people were charged last year in a $22 million fraud scheme that sadly resulted in the death of a young patient. When state officials were confronted with their tragic lack of oversight, they shrugged.

This is all the more reason to tighten the screws. If the state isn’t going to do its job, we will find a way step in and do it for it.

Regardless of whether the operators or the clients are committing crimes, the message is clear: these businesses need oversight.

The Board of Supervisors’ approval of six new employees dedicated to this industry is a start. This allows the district attorney’s office to ramp up enforcement of a problem that has existed for decades. It must stop.

Orange County Supervisor TODD SPITZER is a candidate for district attorney.


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