More Regulation for Sober Living? Connecticut Residents Push for Sober House Oversight.
The phone of a deceased person rings. On the other end of the line, a perplexed mother responds. Who could it possibly be? Mary Beth Tobin puts down the phone.
The number is incorrect. Mary Beth’s cell phone is her last connection to the people who were with her son, Brian, hours before he died of a heroin overdose on Nov. 3.
Torrington cops seized the phone in the hopes that it would lead them to the narcotics dealer who killed Brian.
All Mary Beth had was a police report detailing her son’s death, including how he had been booted out of a sober house for taking drugs the night before a hotel manager discovered him dead in a run-down motel in Torrington.
What irritates Mary Beth the most is that one of her son’s housemates, Josh Schneider, was permitted to stay despite using drugs with her son, indicating an unequal implementation of house rules and a lack of state restrictions on sober houses.
Staff employees at Freedom House, an all-facility men’s facility, were chastised by Mary Beth for failing to contact her or authorities after learning that her son had relapsed on heroin and was in danger.
“I would have rather [brought] my son cigarettes to jail than flowers to the cemetery,” Mary Beth said in an interview at her home in Bridgeport. “He didn’t need to get thrown out of the place.”
Following a string of overdoses and deaths, some of Torrington’s sober houses found themselves in the spotlight.
Detractors complain about a lack of control, with one mother of one of the ten victims who died of suspected heroin overdoses last year telling the Register Citizen that recovering addicts dying in sober houses is an “oxymoron.”
Kyle Stoltz, 42, was one of the victims, found dead at a Taylor Street sober house where police had called 17 times in the previous year.
Taylor, an 18-year-old guy, was nearly killed after overdosing on heroin at the same house about three weeks ago.
According to authorities, Freedom House has received only six calls for service in the last four years.
However, home manager Donald Wright stated that he didn’t know how often residents sneaked drugs in because their rooms weren’t subject to drug sweeps, highlighting a culture of loose restrictions at what Mary Beth described as “safe houses.”
“[You’re] talking about shakedowns?” Wright said. “I don’t go into everybody’s room and toss their rooms looking for narcotics. You’re telling me they should be frisked. And all their bags and baggage go through when they come through the door. I don’t know of any sober house that does that. “
According to the police report, Brian Tobin easily took heroin into the house and split it with Schneider, who snorted a line of heroin from a CD case hours after admitting to Wright that he and Tobin wouldn’t pass a drug test.
Tobin even went so far as to inform Schneider that, since they wouldn’t be tested for three days, they could keep getting high on heroin.
Tobin, on the other hand, died on his mother’s birthday, Nov. 3.
A Bridgeport police officer arrived at Mary Beth’s door at 4 p.m. with the news that her son had been found splayed out on the bed after failing to check out on time.
At 12:54 p.m., authorities proclaimed Tobin deceased. The defibrillator electrodes that were used to try to revive him were still attached to his chest. There were evident track traces from a needle Brian Tobin used to shoot up.
Near his head, an uncapped heroin needle and two empty bags were discovered. They were inscribed with the words “new arrival” and an eagle. Tobin’s sobriety pendant hung on the bedside table.
A 26-year-old engineer was unable to be found.
Supporters of sober-living homes argue that they give recovering addicts a structure to help them reintegrate into society.
However, public officials in some states have urged politicians to intervene, requesting governmental control in the wake of a spate of complaints about drug use by shady landlords.
According to a 2009 report by Saul Spigel, chief analyst for the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research, those efforts haven’t yielded much fruit, and Hawaii remains the only state to enact state legislation governing sober houses.
Mary Beth accused Thomas Sweeney, the proprietor of Freedom House, of profiting from people’s relapses.
Sweeney has a revolving door of residents because of its zero-tolerance drug policy and non-refundable deposit, according to Mary Beth.
Sweeney did not respond to several phone calls seeking comment.
Mary Beth claimed she asked for a refund of some of her son’s $770 deposit because he had only stayed at the facility for two weeks, but Sweeney took the money.
“You know, I lost three tenants this weekend,” he added to Mary Beth. “I trusted this place was going to be a safe house for my son. It’s not. They can’t just open up and say, ‘OK, we’re a sober house. But in our state, that’s what they can do. “
Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, an advocacy group, estimates that the state has roughly 160 sober houses, with 40 of them licensed by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Because of federal rules, city officials say it’s difficult to say how many sober houses have sprung up in Torrington over the years.
Mary Beth was enraged by this episode because her son, Brian, was ejected for drug usage while another man, Schneider, was permitted to stay. She believes her kid could have been rescued if sober homes were required to follow more severe guidelines. Instead, landlords can simply evict tenants after a single infraction and leave them to fend for themselves.
The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has some authority over the sober house business, which largely allows rental operators to set their own standards.
Even when owners set regulations, they are frequently left to the discretion of a house manager. Rules are sometimes disregarded, as they were in this case.
A list of restrictions supplied in an application file for Freedom House, an all-facility men’s shelter, was investigated by the Register Citizen, and some tenants were found to have broken them.
Freedom House is not a DMHAS-approved sober living facility.
According to a police report, tenants are not allowed to have guests stay over, but one of Brian Tobin’s housemates, Doug Zepka, had moved in with his girlfriend.
Members of the House are also required to attend four 12-step sessions every week, but Wright told a reporter that the meetings are simply recommended, not mandated.
“You’re not being looked at all the time,” he said. “Somebody’s not always over your shoulder, watching what you do. You’re left to pretty much your own devices. “
DMHAS, on the other hand, mandates accredited sober houses to follow minimal criteria and follow house regulations.
Residents must usually work full-time or attend school full-time while abstaining from drugs and alcohol and submitting to random drug tests.
The frequency of random tests is determined by the rental owners.
Wright wouldn’t specify how frequently he puts the men at Freedom House to the test.
Another tenant at one of the city’s sober residences said he had only been tested twice in the seven months he had been there.
DMHAS-certified sober houses are held to higher standards, otherwise, their funding may be withdrawn.
To keep it up to date, they must keep track of criminal behavior on the premises as well as arrests of residents and personnel.
Zoning laws differ from state to state in the United States.
According to a story published last year in the Arizona Republic, several communities, such as Phoenix, Gilbert, and Peoria, restrict sober houses in residential zones.
Torrington, according to city planner Martin Connor, has no such limits.
Municipalities in Hawaii are required by state law to hold public hearings before giving licenses to rental property owners who want to convert their properties into recovery homes.
A few states, including Massachusetts, California, and Minnesota, introduced laws, but none of them gained enough traction to succeed.
‘Out of my hands’
In Mary Beth’s living room, white poster boards with dozens of images of Brian and his brother, John, are spread out on the table.
The brothers are often shown smiling, arms flung over each other’s shoulders.
While their mother worked as an officer manager at a doctor’s office in Bridgeport, they were latch-key youngsters who spent a lot of time together.
That relationship has now been severed, leaving Wright, a 51-year-old former crack addict who now works as a case worker at an undisclosed institution, to come to terms with Brian Tobin’s death.
According to Wright, the house manager, breaking the rules puts everyone’s safety in danger.
Schneider, though, appears to have broken the regulations, according to a police complaint.
Schneider may have worked out a deal with the homeowner, Sweeney, according to Wright, who denied giving Schneider preferential treatment.
Schneider and Tobin were allegedly ejected, but they fled before he could take their keys.
Schneider, Wright suspected, snuck back into the house after he went to bed.
“It wasn’t because of my negligence [that Tobin died],” Wright said. “[Schneider] was not allowed to stay. I do not have any security. I’m not running behind any grown men. I’m not getting paid to run around and be a monitor. Am I supposed to strongarm these keys away from this person? “
If Wright had allowed Brian Tobin to stay that night, he was asked if he believed he would still be alive today.
“That’s an if,” he said. “He could also have passed away in the house. If I could take it all back, to be honest with you, it was, basically, out of my hands. It’s not my home. At the end of the day, there was only so much I could do. “
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Our sober house directory is a great tool to help you find the homes, but it’s up to you to find the right fit. While certification and a good outward appearance is a start, do more digging before you commit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! While many homes offer fantastic sober living, we’re partial to Vanderburgh House, but that’s because they helped build this directory.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to open a sober house, we would encourage you to reach out to Vanderburgh Communities, the first organization offering sober living charters in the United States. Keep your head up and take it one day at a time!