Sober Home Crackdown Leading to Increase in Homelessness

In July of 2016, Palm Beach County, Florida assembled a sober home task force consisting of treatment industry professionals, law enforcement officers and detectives and special agents, led by State Attorney David Aronberg. This task force was brought together in an effort to conduct investigations into potentially corrupt and fraudulent sober-home owners and their employees. Since its inception in July of 2016, more than 30 people have been arrested for criminal activity such as insurance fraud, patient brokering and other more sinister crimes. This all sounds like great news, what could go wrong? Unfortunately, as crooked sober-homes get shut down, their mostly out of state residents who struggle with drug addiction end up on the street homeless with nowhere to go.

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Homelessness Plagues Florida

As it is Florida is already plagued by homelessness. The same things that attract tourists to Florida attract the homeless population as well; nice beaches, great weather and an ever-growing population of homeless people to assimilate into. Not to mention Florida is home to a plethora of people for who drugs and mental illness is already a major issue. This too is a contributing factor to the steady growth of the homeless population. The transient nature of many of Florida’s residents makes it very easy for many of them to slip into homelessness as many others have.

Unintended Consequences

When these corrupt and fraudulent sober-homes get shut down, many of their residents are immediately left without a place to live. Often times these people are staying in Florida after treatment and traveling back to their original home is not an option. Or in some cases it may be an option, but not an option that is conducive to their recovery, so they stay. But now that many of these sober-home residents are becoming homeless without any warning, Florida is stuck trying to compensate for this issue. Resources are limited as it is and it’s going to be extremely difficult to accommodate every resident from over 30 different sober-homes and growing.

The need for sober-homes is clear; addiction rates are forever rising and addicts need safe, structured places to go. But unfortunately, the industry attracted unsavory and unscrupulous characters due to high profitability and a lack of government oversight. Characters like Kenneth Chatman, who was convicted of various crimes such as “pimping out his clients”, “fraudulent billing practices”, and “running an addiction brothel”. They don’t make ‘em any worse than Kenny. Luckily this lovely person was convicted and sentenced to 27-and-a-half years in federal prison. The only unfortunate thing about this sentence is that he will eventually get to see the light of day again; his victims will never be the same again, and they will be forced to live with the horrors he inflicted upon them for the rest of their lives.

With that being said, residents from sober-homes such as Kenny Chatman’s house were forced to vacate the place they live immediately without warning and without anywhere to go. This puts a lot of stress on an addict just out of treatment living in a halfway house. These are the kind of circumstances under which addicts relapse time and time again. Besides the risk of relapse, addicts who find themselves suddenly on the street after their sober-home gets shut down are at risk of ending up right back in the same cycle that landed them on the street. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the story “I was kicked out of my sober-home, I was hanging out with my luggage at a meeting/Starbucks and I was approached by a guy who said I could go to another house as long as I had insurance.” They end up in another sober-home where they are mined for urine and insurance, and often times they end up relapsing and can’t get back into treatment because their benefits have been used up. In the end, the man or woman who placed them gets paid a hefty fee for performing this service.

Proactive Measures, not Reactionary

As of now, I know of absolutely no concrete solutions to the problem of homeless addicts. It seems that the state of Florida is playing a deadly, brutal and frustrating game of whack-a-mole. There were the pain clinics, they put together a task force to deal with them and eventually were able to shut them down. Then, addicts switched to heroin, so rehabs and sober-homes popped up everywhere to deal with the rising addiction levels. Then many of the rehabs started doing the wrong thing, so Florida had to put together a sober-homes task force to deal with the unethical operators, and now they’re shutting them down and in the process creating homeless addicts. The question is, when does all this madness end? My guess is, no time soon. Real problems need real solutions, and it seems we are only capable of reactionary measures. If this remains the case, we will always be chasing our tail on these issues.

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