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Sober Service Organizations and Public Safety: Is There a Conflict of Interest in Florida?

Sober Service Organizations and Public Safety: Is There a Conflict of Interest in Florida?

The Tampa Heights Civics Association is actively lobbying the city of Tampa to shut down a local residential facility that purports to help those who are low income and struggling with services, residence, and support. According to the website of this home, the goal is to provide private or shared rooms as well as clothing, counseling, recovery meetings, food, employment help, and more to those who are struggling. According to the association, the building has done little but increase rates of criminal activity and drug use in the neighborhood.

The Tampa Heights Civics Association report cites more than 600 calls to law enforcement in the past three years due to activities at this home, as well as surveillance footage of alleged threats made to a neighbor who called the police for assistance due to events that transpired at the home. Crime statistics, personal stories of people who live nearby, and more are being used to demonstrate that far more harm than good has come out of the business and to convince the city that the business should be shut down.

One neighbor says: “The place has been plagued. Homicides. In that alley. There’s people that have been coming through that have been drinking.”

Sober Service Organizations and Public Safety: Is There a Conflict of Interest in Florida?

But the owner and resident of the building says that he provides a needed service to people who are struggling: “These people would not be able to find a place anywhere near the downtown area for the prices they charge.”

The issues that both the neighbors and residents of the home are facing are not uncommon. Though they are not specifically a recovery house or treatment program, they do purport to help people who are trying to live a sober and positive life if that is their focus. Across Florida and across the country, there is an ongoing struggle between the organizations that serve those who are in recovery from drug addiction and the local residents who live in the neighborhood or nearby.

It can be a difficult balance to strike. Services and support are clearly needed, but where should treatment programs, sober living homes, and other support organizations physically be so they are accessible to those in need without compromising the safety of others?

A Clear Need

People are struggling with addiction in greater and greater numbers. Between 2014 and 2015 alone, Florida saw a 22.7 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is clear that more must be done to connect people in need with medicated detox options (e.g., methadone and buprenorphine), harm reduction options (e.g., clean needle exchanges), and treatment services that will help them to detox and learn how to live without any drug use for the long-term.

Unfortunately, drug addiction is devastating and can cause extreme and erratic behaviors in those living with the disorder. The very nature of the disease involves compulsive use of the substance of choice regardless of the harm caused in the process. This characteristic is the very thing that indicates the dire need for intensive support systems and treatment. However, it is also the very thing that causes neighbors to feel unsafe.

Public Safety

As a civil society, we are actively engaged in living out a social contract that protects the rights and safety of all involved. This means that while we have the right to pursue our dreams and find happiness, we must do so in such a way that it does not cause harm to others or in any way impede their ability to live a healthy and safe life.

Some feel that the presence of sober living homes, clean needle exchanges, methadone clinics, and other services to help people in the process of recovery from addiction violates this social contract. Others know that, while this may be true in some instances, it does not have to be the case if facilities are run well and there is enough security. In addition, it is imperative to provide these services because this social contract exists.

If there is a clear and present danger to neighbors who live near a specific facility, then it is an issue with that particular organization and how it manages its programs and client flow. It isn’t a question of whether or not these services should be made available in general.

What Do You Think?

How should the issues of community integration be managed so that everyone’s needs are met? What rules or regulations should be changed or applied that would help those in need to get treatment and simultaneously ensure the safety of the neighborhood?