GUEST COMMENTARY: Recovery is Not a Crime

Jason Lee OverbeyIn April 2014 the City of Cincinnati and the Mayor, along with Pete Witte, waged a furious battle in the drug and alcohol war in our area. Shockingly, they chose the dark side. Disappointingly, they will not budge.

They demand New Foundations Transitional Living (NFTL) – a sober living provider in Price Hill and Northern Kentucky – to shut down all six Cincinnati residences and relocate approximately 100 clean and sober residents elsewhere.

The media has dutifully covered the story and the City’s claims in several TV, radio and print pieces. Yet, the entire story – with all facts – hasn’t been presented for consideration to the public. This is evidenced by the volume of emails, calls and in-person inquiries NFTL receives after each story is released.

Unfortunately, the drug and alcohol scourge is everyone’s problem. It’s your problem. The entire city’s problem. The toll in dollars, image and safety is incalculable. Those in active addiction cost us all in the fees paid for first-responders, loss of productivity from unemployment, incarcerations, property crime, overdose deaths, emergency room visits, welfare, anyone can increase this list. The problem belongs to all of us even if no one close to us suffers from the disease. Our society and communities suffer.

Today we present the truth for thinking men and women to review and research so an educated decision can be made – and not an emotional one. Our aim is to combat contempt prior to investigation.

The City claims the six houses in Price Hill violate local single family zoning laws. They claim more than four unrelated persons living in one house in a single family zone violates the code. They attempt to attach fines and even possible criminal charges for such violations.

The truth is that the Federal Fair Housing Act amended in 1988 specifically protects recovering alcoholics and addicts against such claims. The Act allows congregate living for recovering alcoholics and addicts in single family zones. The City’s codes are in violation of the federal law. There is nothing for us to comply with – no variance to seek. This is a civil rights issue.

Best Practices
The Mayor and some members of Greater Cincinnati Recovery Resource Collaborative (GCRRC) claim that New Foundations needs to adopt and implement best practices. The truth is that NFTL does not provide detox, treatment or counseling of any kind. NFTL provides structured and safe sober living housing. Therefore, no licensing or oversight is required by local, state or federal government entities. The only service being provided is transitional housing.

However, New Foundations abides by the ethics and standards of the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board voluntarily. The Director has a Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant (CDCA) awarded by the State of Ohio – even though it is not employed in day-to-day operations. NFTL has thorough rules, standards, healthy living requirements and accountability. And New Foundations has recently begun work with National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) to review, adopt and implement their strict National standards for sober living environments.

New Foundations does not accept sexual offenders, arsonists, or anyone with open felony and misdemeanor warrants. All residents must pass a drug and alcohol screen to enter our houses. NFTL is not a halfway house which is state funded and receives only parolees. We are transitional living. More than 41% of our residents come to us by word-of-mouth and come voluntarily to receive support in recovery. Talk to our neighbors. We encourage it.

Our residents help shovel snow, do repairs, and watch the block for neighbors where all of our houses are situated. We leave our porch lights on. We inform the police when we witness drug and possible violent activity. We are good, solid neighbors and the record proves it.

We are also good citizens. We participate in Price Hill cleanup days, volunteer and we not only live in Price Hill – many residents work and pay taxes in the community. We have a stake in the safety and progress of Price Hill, too. And we prove our dedication to the value of Price Hill with our measurable actions and not just rhetoric. More than 45% of our residents come in with jobs and some college education.

Our team members’ phone numbers are posted and we have an open door policy and encourage property tours and engagement. We want to work with local groups, churches and businesses.

NIMBY and Property Values
Any person engaged in urban living who owns property should very much be concerned with their property values. The truth is that in over four years of successful operation in Price Hill not one case can be supplied proving property values have been negatively impacted by the presence of NFTL. In fact, New Foundations works tirelessly to put funds back into every property, every year, for repairs, rehab and curb appeal.

Because we understand real estate and because we care about Price Hill, we take pride in the modernity and value increase of our houses. Our residents never refer to their location as a house, or as New Foundations. You hear them, day after day, call it home.

Claims have been made about the number of residents living in each house. The truth is that the drug and alcohol problem in the Greater Cincinnati area is so intense that all local area providers – of treatment and sober living – are full. Many of our colleagues have to place their clients on couches and even cots. Many providers who have joined the Mayor have, and still do, send us their clients because they are full.

New Foundations made an internal decision in April to begin reducing the number of residents in each home and have already accomplished a great deal. There is little left to do regarding occupancy and the point is now moot. It is deplorable. Although health and safety are top priorities, transitional living providers in Cincinnati should be expanding and growing. Not being attacked and dying off.

Non-Profit vs. For Profit
A common theme among complaints is that NFTL is a for-profit entity. The truth is that New Foundations employs a very common hybrid structure having both a for-profit sole proprietorship and a non-profit resident scholarship fund where 100% of the monies go directly to help residents pay fees and get back on their feet. Additionally, a major portion of the income from NFTL goes back into the houses, programs and services for residents.

The larger, more powerful assertion is that New Foundations has found a way to provide a desperately need service for Cincinnati without using any taxpayer dollars.

How is that a problem? Some say the for-profit side makes them nervous. We have asked how and invited a dialogue and have gotten no solid response. Why can’t New Foundations be for-profit and save lives. We can – this is the United States. And we have done it successfully for over four years.

While the good people of Cincinnati rage in a debate over streetcars and bike paths – as any progressive city should be doing – where is the upset over the plague of the drug epidemic on this, the Queen City? Stories about heroin overdose are relegated to sensationalist coverage in the press. We already know about the problem. Where is the focus on the solution? The focus is on shutting the solution down.

NFTL is a part of the solution – not the problem.

Where is the commitment from the City? The new proposed budget has no allocation for treating this plague. Yet, there are funds for obesity. Is the Coroner’s office backlogged three months on obesity cases as they are with overdose deaths?

Recovery is not a crime. It is the answer. The work of NFTL is already legal. It is demonstrably successful and well-known in the recovery community. From the beginning, the Mayor and Pete Witte have offered no authentic opportunity to sit down and explore the truth with us. Only accusations, rhetoric and digging. What’s really going on here?

We cannot be sure. We only know that we will continue to rip our hearts out and watch them bleed on the table for this work. Our loyalty is with our residents, our cause and our City. We will not give up. We are open! We are alive and well. We will not stop fighting this disease for them – and for you.

Jason Lee Overbey attended Indiana Bible College and studied communications at University of Cincinnati. He co-founded LIST My Social Media and eventually became Director of New Foundations. Jason currently lives on the West Side and has a strong interest and commitment to the progress and image of Cincinnati.

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  • wklis

    The Mayor of Toronto need not apply.

  • James Bonsall

    Great and informative commentary. Thanks for giving us the background here. I do think it is fitting that Northside Community Council approved a needle exchange program (3 hours a week out of a van) on the same day this was published. Keep up the good work.

  • matimal

    Cincinnati residents have every right to pursue the application of zoning laws whatever benefit these residents may find in these houses. Less drug use is obviously good, but property owners and residents in Price Hill have the right to use the law as everyone else does. Drug addicts are trying to get on the right side of the law and these places should too.

    • Agreed. Except that the Federal Law supersedes the local law. So then what do we do since the Federal Law makes the local law void? There is nothing to pursue then.

    • Aaron head

      Well done Jason, on the article. New Foundations is in the solution, were not the problem. If we don’t find ways to help alcoholics and addicts to recover, property value in price hill will be nothing. Ist bad there already but it can and will get allot worse

    • matimal

      Federal law supersedes local law IF the sovereign powers reserved to the states are not involved. The Federal law does not make the local law void on its face. It provides the basis for you to take legal action to have a court establish IF the Federal law interferes with the states’ (that create local governments after all) exercise of their sovereign powers. The feds can’t do ANYTHING just because they’re the feds. That isn’t how our constitution works. There is nothing self-evident here. Make your case and take your chances. That’s how this country works.

    • Truth is we have already tested this through the courts. It always prevail. I am all for State’s rights. But I am for the rule of law and the process that changes law if we disagree with one(s). All over the US this law is being enforced in local jurisdictions in favor of the Federal Fair Housing Act. I do suggest giving it a Google. You will see page after page specifically relating to Sober Living Houses. There is a powerful precedent set for years now.

    • matimal

      “Always”? Strong words, but what do you have to lose if you’re wrong? Go big or go home, right?

    • Just to update you matimal… we won!

    • matimal

      So, you see this as a battle. Who’s “we”? What did “we” win? Who am I? What did I lose?

    • Guest

      And like with ALI, zoning laws can be abused and misconstrued by those in power to screw the little guy.

    • matimal

      Whose the ‘big’ and the ‘little’ guy in this situation?

  • Josh

    Great Article! The one thing I would like to comment on is the severity that the drug problem is in our communities. I myself was a resident and house manager at NFTL and would have to say the help that NFTL provided me was very easy to access and readily available. Can this be said about any of the other recovery houses or housing in the greater Cincinnati/Northern KY area? WE NEED PLACES LIKE NFTL TO HELP ADDICTS AND ALCOHOLICS BECOME PRODUCTIVE MEMBERS OF OUR SOCIETY. Where is the empathy from the people in our communities???!!! Why are we worried more about property values and the curb appeal of our houses than we are the wellness and health of our own neighbors??!! Yes, residents of Price Hill do have the right to fair zoning laws in their city but at the expense of possibly saving lives? It seems to me that people have their thoughts and priorities in selfishness rather than love and empathy. Very sad in my opinion.

  • Mandi Huffaker

    Fantastic information! I wish everyone could get all the facts like this!!! Right now we need more places like New Foundations that are making a difference in the fight against addiction. You guys are doing some great work! Everyone wants a solution to a problem and here is a big step in helping that problem. Keep up the great work.

  • Man this is a problem all over. Especially here in Florida as well. Its also a problem they try to make so complex that you need rocket scientist to figure it out. However more acticles we have discussion solutions instead of rehashing the problems, the close we get to making progress. Great article!

  • Alan Darnell

    Good information…thanks for sharing

  • bill c

    NFTL is under scrutiny only because we are on the cutting edge of the solution. If we can provide housing with structure and a atmosphere that brings joy to the lives of recovering alcoholics/addicts it becomes a trickle effect. Before long more people will know how and why NFTL works so well. People will by-pass the places that was the standard for decades to come get sober with the best group of people in the world. Cincinnati has always been a recovery hotbed with the amount of meetings in the area and there was a reason that NFTL was expanding at a shocking rate before all this legal rhetoric began. It was because the home like feeling we provide, is it easier to get clean and sober at a facility where the person in charge is a paid employee with set hours of operation? absolutely not, I say the ability to be newly sober and have the option of live in house managers to talk to at any given time day or night is a selling point people who have been through the struggle and fight the good fight on a daily basis hand and hand with the residents who live in there houses. I believe that looking in from a distance this could make some people nervous, and fear of the unknown is common, but there is a reason why all of us at NFTL do what we do and we are good at it. Hopefully one day the people who have caused so much stink over all this will see the truth. And god forbid one day the people who are most against us just may need our services.

  • Vena

    I’m a resident of Price Hill. I’m a business owner in Price Hill. I’d like to request that New Foundations buy the house next to mine, throw out the meth-addicted folks who live there, and put in a sober living facility. I’d further like to request that they buy the entire area around my office and do the same. When I look at the well-maintained, quiet houses occupied by people who are trying to change their lives for the better that NF runs, then watch the near-weekly jumpings in front of my office on Warsaw Avenue (and no, I’m not exaggerating) and the nearly-nightly screaming fights, police calls, and abuse going on next door too me, I’ll take the recovering addicts over the drug-addicted and drug-trading tenants any day.

    The powers that be in Price Hill have been anxious to jump on the bandwagon of every liberal cause out there, from creating an “eco-village” to displaying “Stop Fracking” signs in their yards (because as you may or may not know, Cincinnati is a hotbed of fracking. No, wait, we’re not. But let’s make sure the poorest counties in Ohio don’t get those jobs). Yet, when someone does good AND makes a profit at it–rather than consume taxpayer dollars–it suddenly becomes evil. I can live with the crime, the dilapidated housing, and the silly wastes of public money, but the hypocrisy over here is intolerable.