Pa. bill would seek to regulate recovery homes

Posted: April 07, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Inside, the Joy of Living home on Leiper Street in Frankford looks like a college dormitory.

Each bedroom has multiple twin beds, ramen noodle packets and toothpaste tubes are stacked on top of dressers, and old leather couches encircle a television in the living room on the first floor.

But the rules in this so-called recovery house, which, like hundreds of others in the region, aims to provide a sober living environment for recovering addicts - curfews, chore schedules, room inspections - hardly resemble dormitory life.

"This is a very structured living environment," said Duncan Martin, 51, who has stayed at Joy of Living since relapsing on painkillers in 2012.

Advocates say the hundreds of homes in the region, the bulk of them in Philadelphia and Bucks Counties, provide beacons of hope to addicts fighting to get clean.

Neighbors, however, often complain that the homes attract unsavory guests and lack government oversight.

New legislation seeks to change that.

A bill the state House recently passed would require the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to work up a certification process for recovery homes.

Though not all homes receive subsidies, under the bill, only those certified would be eligible for state or federal funding.

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Frank Farry (R., Bucks), said the aim is to provide incentives to owners to maintain best practices and encourage those who are "genuinely trying to help those in recovery."

"It really comes down to, Who's running the recovery house?" Farry said. "We want none of them to be the fly-by-night variety."

The bill would by no means be a catch-all, said Fred Way, executive director of the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences.

Legislation can't prohibit someone from opening a recovery home without certification, he said.

Like any other landlord, owners can rent to whomever they choose, so long as the residence complies with local ordinances and zoning regulations.

And many recovery homes, probably a majority, survive off rent paid by tenants, not state funding, said Way, who has spent years tracking recovery homes.

Recovery homes can pop up and shut down rapidly - and vary widely in quality, he said.

"There's nothing . . . that you can do about a house opening up, taking in individuals, charging them a fee, and not being monitored," he said, noting that some owners will buy up cheap houses and rent them to recovering addicts as a way to make a fast buck.

Still, Way asserted that the number of homes seeking to truly help recovering addicts far outweighs the shady variety.

Mike Pellone, whose son overdosed at a Levittown recovery home in 2010, agrees. Pellone, 54, said that after his son, also named Mike, moved into a recovery home that year, he showed signs of putting his life back together.

He found a job, Pellone said, attended meetings, and was supported by a peer group.

The younger Pellone seemed to be progressing better than he had in years, his father said, but then he went out on his own to score drugs.

The batch killed him, Pellone said, and his son was found dead by his friends at the recovery home.

The experience was an awful tragedy, Pellone said, but neither he nor his wife has regrets about Mike's experience at the home.

"It was an amazing, supportive environment," Pellone said, noting that many of his son's peers were devastated by his sudden relapse.

Parry said his bill seeks to encourage all recovery homes to develop a supportive, welcoming environment.

It is uncertain when the Senate might vote on the bill, and Gary Tennis, secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said the agency hoped to move forward with a task force to establish recommendations.

Way said most owners he is in touch with support the bill, and he does as well.

When it comes to making those standards official, Way said, "I just think it's time."

609-217-8305 @cs_palmer

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