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Sober homes are opening in lots of Tampa Bay neighborhoods, but state provides little oversight

Participation in voluntary inspections limited
Posted at 11:22 PM, Mar 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-26 02:49:38-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — "It is a heartbreaking experience,” said Carroll Harrop, describing her son’s death.

Ian Hines lost his life while trying to turn his life around at a sober home operated by Holstic Coaching Services, Inc.  

“Somehow he got hold of fentanyl and died,” Harrop said.

He overdosed just weeks after moving into the home.

“They were supposed to have weekly meetings and weekly drug testing and it wasn’t happening,” Harrop said.

Jannet Harper and her husband Chris Keaton run Holistic Coaching, which has three sober homes in St. Petersburg.

“I’m not a program,” said Harper.

She says she’s essentially a landlord with lots of resources.

A couple of miles away, Jim and Susan Miller, say sober homes run by different companies are destroying their community.

“Mostly it was just a constant traffic of people, moving in, moving out,” said Jim Miller.

“We found out that the houses on each side of us and behind us. They were called drug rehab houses, but they were really drug use houses,” said Susan Miller.

Part of the problem is a lack of regulation of sober homes in Florida.

The Florida Association of Recovery Residences, or FARR, inspects and certifies homes, but it's voluntary.

Only two homes in St. Petersburg participate.

Holistic Coaching isn't one of them.

Harper balks at the $300 per home cost to join FARR.

“It’s gonna raise overhead and it’s gonna close them down. And then people are gonna really have no options,” Harper said.

Their business rents beds by the week in houses leased from investors.

Profits can be big.

Six people live in a one-bathroom house which can bring in about $4,000 in monthly rent.

“It’s false advertising at its worst,” said Machaon Stevens.

He lived in a Holistic Coaching sober home for about three weeks.

Stevens says he was told the program would drug test him, help him find a job and help him get to 12 step meetings.

Harper said he was kicked out of the home after he got drunk.

She says all residents are required to sign a sobriety pledge.

“As far as having support available to them, it’s always available. Cause people can always call us,” Harper said.

She admits it’s up to the client to maintain sobriety, saying she can’t serve as both a counselor and landlord.

Stevens paid $165 a week for a bed in a 10-by-10 room he shared with two roommates.

Sober homes get paid by government disability checks, insurance policies, addicts, or their families.  

“They are preying on people at their weakest moments in addiction who actually want help,” said Stevens, who moved back to Maine after leaving the home.

Stevens began using again a few days after moving into the sober home.

He blames the temptation of drug use around him and says Chris Keaton turned a blind eye. 

“When he stopped by we were drinking. If I wasn’t, someone was. There was alcohol in the bedrooms,” he said.

We saw rolling papers and other drug paraphernalia on our first visit to the home in late February.

When we returned with Harper last week, the house had been cleaned up and bed-bug infested furniture had been hauled to the curb.

“This is a community service I’m doing,” said Harper, who says several members of her own family suffered from addiction issues.

She says most landlords won’t rent to addicts, who often have criminal convictions.

Florida Legislators recently approved $300,000 to expand the FARR program and adopt new standards.

Those who count on sober homes to keep them, well hope lawmakers will do more.  

“I need to be regulated and when I say I need to be regulated, I need to be held accountable,” said Stevens, who recently got a new job and is maintaining sobriety with the help of counseling and a 12-step program.

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