Dawn Tunbridge isn’t sure whether to be welcoming or wary of her new next-door neighbors. So for now, she’ll probably settle on something in between.
In January, the home just east of Tunbridge will open as Balance House, a sober-living facility for young men recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. Tunbridge, and many of her neighbors, support the sober-living ideal, but wish the facility was located somewhere other than their Cottonwood Heights neighborhood.
They aren’t alone. Sober houses seem to be popping up all along the Wasatch Front. While neighbors often want to keep them out, proponents say such facilities help recovering addicts transition to normal life.
The number of sober-living homes in Utah has increased dramatically over the past five years, according to Elizabeth Sollis, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services. However, she said the state has no count of the homes because many are not licensed and do not have to be. Sollis said Utah now tops the nation in prescription-drug addiction, which could help explain the increase.
The sober-living spectrum can include anything from a group of friends who meet in a recovery program and decide to live together to a fully licensed facility with on-site supervision, drug testing and program plans, Sollis said. Some charge as little as $400 a month and offer supervision and a moral-support system, while others charge thousands of dollars and include such services as meals, transportation and counseling. All fall under the federal Fair Housing Act, Sollis said, because addiction recovery is considered a disability.
“The thing people need to remember is that substance abuse is a disease,” Sollis said. “It takes community support for people to truly find recovery.”
Balance House is hoping to be a good neighbor, said director of operations Micah Woodworth. Residents must have completed a treatment program and pass weekly random drug and alcohol screenings, and also try to find jobs or further their education. The facility has purchased a van to transport residents and ease parking congestion, and has remodeled the house to meet current city building codes.