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Editorial: Time to regulate recovery homes

York Dispatch

It looks like any other house on the block. It's obviously home for a group of people who aren't related, but there are plenty of those throughout York City.

Home owner Dave Dunkel, left, talks with residents Jennifer Young, center, of York City, and Trishya Bouse, of Towanda, in their recovery home on Pennsylvania Avenue in York, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Dunkel offers to bring Bouse a "Heroin Cravings Index" of helpful information he has compiled in hopes of building an APP at some point in the future. Dawn J. Sagert  photo

But this home is different. The residents are recovering addicts who have been through a rehab program and are trying to set their lives back on course.

There is no medical treatment going on in the house, no counseling. This recovery house might offer specific programs for residents to make sure they are going to 12-step meetings, help them find jobs and hold regular testing to make sure they are staying clean.

Then again, it might not.

York City: Let us regulate recovery homes better

There are around 80 recovery homes in York City. We have to say around 80 because no one really knows how many there are. That's because recovery homes are not required to register with any governmental agency. As long as the buildings are kept up to code and no one living there is charged with a crime, the city doesn't officially know that the house is a place for recovering addicts to rebuild their lives.

Recovery houses are a necessary part of the process of moving from addiction to recovery. A person released from rehab needs to have a place to go to adjust to a new lifestyle without drugs — and learn new habits that will keep them off drugs permanently.

In a recovery home, six to 10 residents live together, with each one taking a share of the duties of the household while also looking out for one another. There might be staff present, there might not. At the most basic level, residents govern themselves with weekly meetings and support each other through the transition into a drug-free life, according to the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences (PARR).

Recovery homes are a business, and they receive payment for their work. Locally, basic recovery homes charge $120-$150 per week for rent, with intake costs of up to $500 that include a security deposit. Some places offer food plans, some do not.

PARR certifies its members in four levels of recovery homes, ranging from the most basic home to a more institutional setting that includes medical treatments. It has certified 18 recovery residences run by three companies in York County.

A new bill in the state House would allow for voluntary certification of recovery homes through the state. The bill, HB 1884, is co-sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City. Schreiber  told York City reporter Sean Philip Cotter he hopes the legislation will get rid of the small percentage of providers who might be turning a blind eye to illegal activity — or taking advantage of their vulnerable clients.

"The vast majority are doing a very important and integral service," Schreiber said. "The proverbial bad apples are ruining it for everyone."

The bill would set up a structure to certify the homes, and certified homes would be listed online and recommended through probation officers, proponents say. Still, the certification would be voluntary.

A chart of chores is shown for residents at their recovery home on Pennsylvania Avenue in York, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert  photo

York City would like to see the certification become mandatory, and it sent assistant solicitor Jason Sabol to testify to the House Democratic Policy Committee about it.

"Recovery houses can play a positive role in tackling the heroin problem, but only if there is oversight and regulation to integrate them into the larger rehabilitation and recovery system," Sabol testified.

The city would like to see mandatory certification and licensing fees for the homes so it can have the resources to keep track of them, Sabol said.

That makes sense, and some current recovery home operators agree.

"The good homes will absolutely sign up and do it," said Julie Hess, who with her husband, Ray, runs 11 Keep It Green recovery homes in York City.

And that's the point: Good homes will do it. They're already doing their job and keeping their clients safe and clean during recovery, so they can only gain from having a certification process. As a business, there should be some certification involved, both to protect the public and to protect the clients who are at a vulnerable point in their lives.

We agree that there are a number of areas where government overreach is unwarranted. But in the case of recovery homes, we agree with the city — mandatory certification and regulation should be the ultimate goal.