Strength and Hope – Sober Living Homes – 1 – Make Sure You Select a “Sober” One

The opening video in the “Sober Living Homes” series describes the concept of a group of recovering addicts and alcoholics living together under one roof.  Meant as a transitioning period, this approach is known as “sober living” and was designed to provide lower costs services to recovering addicts.  There are over 60,000 Sober Living Homes in the United States.

Rebecca Flood, President & CEO of “New Directions for Women” says intensive sober living for her organization encourages self-reliance.  Residents must get up, make their own breakfast, clean up after themselves, and so forth.  John Schwarzlose, President & CEO of the Betty Ford Center seems to condone sober living homes as the post-rehab destination for people who previously elected to undergo extended inpatient treatment.

Although the freedom offered by sober living seems enticing, it can be highly dangerous to those early in recovery.  That point only reinforced when news articles flash across the screen headlining deaths that had occurred inside of sober living homes.  These tragic headlines also allude to the fact that regulations were in question, if they were even regulated at all, thus warranting police investigations.

Former resident Michael Colasurdo jokingly refers to sober living homes as “high living homes”.  He has walked into facilities and found joints on top of the washing machine and was also aware of other residents shooting heroin while inside.  He explains that when you throw a bunch of addicts who are barely a month sober into a house together, it’s no surprise they get to talking and end up using together.

Michael Colasurdo’s mother recounts learning her son had been smoking pot albeit living in a sober home.  Because the counselor liked Michael, he opted not to drug test him while he stayed there.  Michael was also granted overnight and weekend-away passes, unbeknownst to his mother.  “Michelle”, another mother to an addict, said some residents kept clean urine stored in a safe so they could pass mandatory drug tests.  She asked the people in charge if they observed urine tests when they were being administered and they were insulted by the question.  “Michelle” went on to say they opted not to observe urine tests because it’s offensive to those working to become clean.

When considering a sober living home or environment (SLH & SLE) be sure to thoroughly tour the home or facility and ask a lot of “what if this happens” questions to the owner or house manager. Be sure to ask for a copy of the house rules and what (if any) education/training the house manager has received. Get answers in writing if possible.


Strength and Hope – Sober Living Homes – 2 – The Regulation Shortfall

This short video is focused on a festering issue Fairfax community members have with sober living homes.  Currently, local governments will allow anyone to open a sober living facility who wants to.  A regional news broadcast covers a heated Fairfax district town meeting.  At the meeting residents explicit their fears and concerns about sober living homes being opened at will.  These members believe sober living homes should be regulated and require permits, just like a business.  Right now they remain largely unregulated.


Strength and Hope – Sober Living Homes – 3 – An Example of a Felon’s Cash Cow

This video expressively states that no licensing is required and no regulations need to be met to open a sober living home for business.  Once inside the house, there’s regulations on how many fire extinguishers there must be, but not too many more beyond that.  The lack of governance and guidance has led to serious consequences for some sober living home residents and their families.

In the early 2000s, the U.S. real estate market was booming, and property loans were easily ascertained.  With an influx of new homeowners, there was also a rise in the opening of sober living homes.  Because it required little oversight, starting a sober living home was not an especially hard endeavor to take on.

While living at an Los Angeles sober living home called “Safe House”, Wendy McEntyre’s son Jarrod died of a heroin overdose.  After her son’s death, like any mother would, she wanted answers.  She reached out “Safe House” owner Rick Schoonover, but he failed to get back to her.  Wendy then took it upon herself to do dig deeper.  Through her research she learned that Rick Schoonover had been cited 7 times for housing men in sheds in his backyard prior to Jarrod’s death.  The consequence for not correcting these violations is $1,000 fine or 6 months in jail.

It turns out Rick Schoonover owned 3 sober living homes of this nature.  On March 13, 2009, he sat for a deposition where much is learned about his criminal history and speckled past.  He disclosed he’d been convicted of numerous felonies, possibly 3-4, including assault with a deadly weapon and robbery.  He also admits he did not train his employees Gloria prior her to acting in the “Safe House” managerial position.

The particular “Safe House” that Jarrod lived in was a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home that housed 24 men.  Wendy cites that if Rick Schoonover charged $600 a head per month, had 24 men on one property, and owns a total of three properties, then he’s bringing in $42,000 a month.  She later learned that he also had a non-profit tax-exempt filing status called a 501(c)(3).  Wendy was shocked the IRS had approved Rick Schoonover’s 501(c)(3) application, and dismayed the house her son lived in had no defibrillator and no requirements for first aid.  Although the City of LA “cited” Schoonover, no changes were implemented and he continues to own and operate sober living homes.

Sober living homes need regulations, one of which mandating on-staff trained professionals to work with residents as they are high risk people.  On the contrary, the owners of sober living homes seem to be only accountable to themselves, and many happen to also be recovering addicts, including Rick Schoonover.  Unfortunately there is no incentive to change the status quo within such a “cash cow” business.  Wendy describes the sober living home industry as a conspiracy of guilt and greed, that preys on the backs of vulnerable people.


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