Queen City resident Margaret Clark has appeared at the last two meetings of Springfield City Council to express her concerns about the number of sober-living homes operating in town.
“I’m experiencing in my situation a cluster effect. They’re surrounding me,” she told council at its March 7 meeting. “I don’t know what to do.”
Clark said she doesn’t want to live in her Springfield house any longer, but she is concerned that she would not be able to sell it because of its proximity to the sober-living facilities.
According to Clark, sober-living homes are under federal jurisdiction and can have up to 10 adults living at the same property. She said neighborhood covenants do not apply.
“It’s a good concept, but like many things, there’s going to be people who – ‘Oh, profit!,’” she said.
A 2018 hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice examined sober-living homes, defined as group homes for recovering addicts or alcoholics in the later stages of their treatment. These homes provide a place for recovering addicts to live while they receive outpatient care, and they are typically located in single-family, middle-class residential neighborhoods, according to the hearing record.
However, some testimony received by the House subcommittee found some sober-living homes to be poorly managed or exploitive.
Counselor Magazine, in a 2018 article by Lillie Singh, points out that sober-living homes have traditionally been thought of as being off limits to state and local regulations, as they do not offer treatment services and instead are groups of individuals with legally recognized disabilities living together in a household. This means they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.
Singh writes that many municipalities attempt to impose zoning ordinances and safety regulations to limit the ability of sober-living facilities to operate in residential neighborhoods, but federal legal protections mean there are few statewide efforts to regulate them.
Missouri offers voluntary licensure, required for residences to obtain referrals from licensed treatment facilities and government-funded programs.
“Laws like this – in place in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri and Rhode Island, and passed in Pennsylvania – may have the effect of requiring licensure to operate, even though the laws say that such state approval is voluntary,” Singh writes.
A 2021 article by multiple authors in the Journal of Substance Use, “House Manager Roles in Sober Living Houses,” clarifies that sober-living homes are growing nationwide, and many use shared bedrooms to reduce isolation that can lead to relapse. There are no established, agreed-upon guidelines for the roles of the house managers who typically run a sober living home, the article states, so managers are on their own in determining how to build a culture of recovery in a household.
While there is not a directory of all sober-living homes in the city of Springfield, an internet search reveals many, some run by religious organizations or nonprofits, and others seemingly independent.
Clark told council a lot of money can be made by unethical people in the sober-living industry.
She added that a large number of these homes can change the nature of a neighborhood.
“Keep in mind, what if one of these went in and there were already some around?” she said. “What is it going to do to the feel of the community in that area or any area?”
She acknowledged that people living in sober-living homes have a legitimate disorder, and the homes can be useful in treatment to give them an environment with their peers that helps them to regain control of their lives.
Clark’s comments came at the end of each of the last two meetings, and there is no indication as to whether council intends to refer the matter to a committee or take it up at a future meeting. Mayor Ken McClure thanked her for her comments on both occasions without further discussion.
Neither council members nor city staffers could be reached for comment by deadline.
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