AM. Jeff Christensen thank you so much for joining me
today and agreeing to be interviewed for Serene Scene
magazine. Jeff Christensen is here from the Sober Living
Network, he is the Executive Director for the network
and the Sober Living Network has a mission that
I would like to read for everybody. The mission of the
Sober Living Network is to promote the establishment
successful management and growth of high quality
sober living homes other community-based recovery
services; sounds like an awesome mission, and I appreciate
your work in that regard. I want to start out by
informing our readers, how did you get involved in this
in the first place?

JC. Good question. I’m in long term recovery, and
that started in AA meetings for me, and I happen to
go to an early morning meeting in Venice at a pizza
parlor. Seven o’clock every morning, and we had a lot
of homeless people and we had the founder of this
organization that would go to that meeting. I met
Ken Schonlau when I first started getting sober, and
because when I first started getting sober there wasn’t
much going on in my life my sponsor told me to get
involved in service, so I offered to be of service to Ken
and he put me to work. About ten years later, here we
are.

AM. So Ken kind of roped you in, is that it?

JC. There’s no question – no question at all. I was
environmental engineer for a long time. So, Ken asked
me what I used to do and I said I used to do site assessments,
and he said, “Great, you’ll make a perfect sober
living inspector.” So that was it, I started inspecting
sober livings for Ken as a volunteer back in 2004, 2005
and inspected hundreds and hundreds and hundreds
of sober living homes. By default, Ken needed to get
around, so I became his driver and his sidekick to get
him to all of his trainings and things that he did for the
network. I got to learn a lot through osmosis by just
being around him and watching what he did. Then
he passed away in 2008. In 2008, I just happen to be
in place on the board when the board said who can
transition this thing, and I had time available so that’s
what I did.

AM. Well I’m glad that fell to you because you have
been doing a fantastic job with the Sober Living Network.
So you mentioned the board. We are going
to talk a little about the structure of the Sober Living
Network and the Coalition as well. What are the types
of people there on the Board of Directors for the Network?

JC. For the Network, it started as a representative
board of our member homes. We cover Southern California
from San Diego to Ventura, out to Riverside. So
it was important to have representatives on the board
to let us know what was going on in those parts. Over
the years, though, because of technology and ability
to not have to come personally report, the board is
maturing now to a more of a fundraising board. We
have a lot of people that are involved in the recovery
and treatment business, but we also have some outside
directors that are starting to gain interest. Business
people, successful business people was that want some
nonprofit board experience, but currently the board
still is probably half representative and the other half is
starting to be made up of outside directors.

AM. Maybe you can just talk a little bit about the Sober
Living Network and what it does in general.

JC. That’s a good question, and we’ve been working
on that. The network’s main may goal is to start grassroots
organizations, and the belief system that we
cater to is that housing is essential to recovery. Without
housing all of our other great plans and designs
for people that are trying to recover, especially people
without much money, goes down the tubes without
housing. So are our job, we are not treatment - we
don’t do that, what we do is we try to create an atmosphere
in a community of recovery within households.
So the basis of the network is to put some standards
out there for the type of house that will create a recovery
environment that is the best that we can do for that
house; and I don’t care if that house is in South-Central
or the hills of Malibu. That standard and what we want
to create in the environment in that house we want
the same in South-Central as in Malibu. So we need
to have training to do that, so we set up the standards,
we do the training, and then we set up the inspection
process so that we can go out and help these houses
maintain that standard. The network’s main job,
through the standards and inspection process, is to
create the grassroots organizations that will support
themselves; because it’s not a top-down organization,
it’s definitely a bottom up from the members who are
all volunteers in this organization in these coalitions
that we develop. A coalition is nothing more than a
group of houses in an area. We divide them up into
counties and in LA County we have a lot of homes, we
have almost over three hundred. Some of the other
counties are not quite as big: Ventura County is our
newest coalition and they have 22 homes. What we do
is we water, and cut the grass, and just tend to these
grassroots organizations in the hope that they gain
their leadership, and they grow together. That power
of the coalition is a voice and that leads us to the final
thing that the network does, is after we would build
and set the standards, and build the coalitions, our
biggest job lately is advocacy. Advocating on behalf
of these homes in the communities because there’s
a lot of resistance to this type of housing in our communities
and it takes a unified voice from our coalition
members and our network, and from our peers, to
fight efforts to close down this housing. It goes directly
against our main core mission which states housing is
essential. So whenever anybody comes after our housing
we are going to step in and fight for the right of our
housing to be there

AM. I want to ask you more about the advocacy in a
few minutes. I read that there are over five hundred
homes in the Sober Living Network, and how many
residents does that represent - how many people are in
sober living?

JC. It’s just over six thousand: six thousand men and
women and children, although we don’t have enough
women with children homes, six thousand folks are
laying their head down on a clean pillow.

AM. That’s fantastic. You mention coalitions, how
many coalitions are there?

JC. Currently there are six formal coalitions, and when
I say formal it means they have a working relationship
either as their own nonprofit or as a network affiliate.
We’ve divided one of our coalitions into six chapters
because it’s so big that it can’t function in LA County,
so all in all, it comes out to thirteen organizations.

AM. Thirteen separate member run organizations?

JC. Yes.

AM. Well that’s a handful to manage isn’t it?

JC. Yes.

AM. I know that the Long Beach/South Bay chapter is
one that, of course, Serene Center is a member of, and
there are monthly meetings that take place. Is that
typical of most of the chapters in the coalition.

JC. Almost every chapter, we give them the autonomy
to decide when to meet, and most decide monthly is
needed. There are a few that meet every other month,
but we leave that to their discretion, but no less than
six meetings a year for the chapter members to attend.
AM. I know from my own experience that within those
meetings there is quite a bit of discussion around best
practices. There is discussion around advocacy of
course, and also there’s an open forum to talk to your
peers, whether they be house managers or owners of
sober livings, to discuss challenges that their having
and are trying to develop a solution. So that’s a really
powerful force, isn’t it?

JC. Absolutely! I think the members look forward to
that, especially the new members, that maybe you’re
just getting into this and need to look at barrier or
some common problem. Maybe it’s how to find a
house manager, or where to find new residents, or
what to do when a neighbor starts getting angry at
you and it can seem just like the end of the world if
you’re new to this. But, you come to a meeting and talk
to people that have been doing this for ten years, and
sometimes they just laugh and say, “Oh, that’s nothing,
just do this.”

AM. You mentioned some trainings as well, there are
more formal trainings too, right?

JC. Correct.

AM. What are those about?

JC. The network offers two formal trainings. One of
them is called Developing and Operating Sober Living
Housing and it is for new or prospective members
looking to open a sober living. We try to take start to
finish, soup to nuts, what it would take if you came
in blind and you needed to learn how to open a sober
living in your community. That’s a really popular
training that we have been giving for fifteen years now.
We just made that available online as well, it’s our only
online training. We developed it through ICDC College
so that someone that does not live here in Southern
California to attend personally, they can take that online.
The second training is what we call the Leadership
Training and is a four hour training that is dedicated to
helping managers better run their homes. One of the
questions you were talking about, that it’s one thing to
open a house, and it’s a completely separate thing to
running it. So those are the two trainings that network
requires all of its members to take and the meetings
are a way to stay current on that; we will cover those
training topics in our meetings because it’s something
that’s constantly a dynamic situation where and when
problems arise and how to handle them as you mentioned,
how to develop these best practices on running
a quality sober living.

AM. I know there’s also the Recovery Summit which
happens annually, what’s the Summit about?

JC. The Recovery Summit is a chance for our members
to come together, all in one place; and we really do it
because our members are not required to get CEUs,
one reason a lot of people go to conferences, so we
put together this kind of an outing for our members to
recognize them. We give them some awards. We try to
get some great speakers and just participate as being
part of the organization. So that’s really the purpose of
the summit; we’ve done outreach to the community,
we do offer CEUs at the summit, but the main reason
for that is to give an opportunity for all or Southern
California coalitions to participate.

AM. Earlier something caught my ear, you were talking
about this grass roots organization setting standards
basically, and having member homes trying to comply
with those standards, even getting certified, by the Sober
Living Network, that they’re compliant with these
standards. Can you talk about the standards a little bit?

JC. The standards grew organically out of three main
areas, and that would be in the areas of help around
the home, safety, and management. When we first
started doing our inspections those were kind of obvious
things. The way that we look at our role is that
we are not the sober police. We are there to help the
house that wants to get recognized as a quality sober
living home pass inspections that are invariably coming
down the pipe by the health department, police
department, the building and safety department, and
any other department you can think of; city attorney
offices stop by. So what we do is we prepare them
for that. We go in and we say health wise, this is what
we’re looking for, and we will go through the kitchens,
go through the bathrooms, and go through the bedrooms.
It is common sense type of things, but at the
same time it is things that the health department is going
to look for. Crumbs, or rats or mold, leaky faucets,
so we’ll develop a set of standards that your house has
to comply with not having those things that are bad.
We recognize when things are good, and we point out
the things that need to be fixed, and the safety issue is
probably the most important; when it comes to smoke
alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers,
slip/trip hazards, and we look for things like water heaters
getting strapped, and we have emergency shut offs
at the gas main. These are all general safety standards
that all houses must have in order to be a member. The
management part of it is really where we train our new
members on how to bring people in, what to expect
for them, what kind of residents it is, how to live clean
and sober, how to administer drug tests. So those
management standards are things that we review and
go over so really that’s the way they’ve expanded a
little bit more, there are some other standards when
it comes to the way the outside of the house looks,
what’s expected with the advocacy, but really it’s used
as a training operation for us with our member homes.
So that’s kind of how we developed that part of our
organization.

AM. When they are in compliance, they are able to say
what?

JC. That they are an accredited, we don’t have certification
because that means something here in California,
but they are accredited as a quality sober living environment.
They get a certificate and they get to put
that up on their wall and our goal at the network is to
get formal recognition by cities, counties, and eventually
the state of California that the accreditation means
something. We’ve been working hard for twenty years
and making a lot of progress, and we have formal
recognition from some counties now of that certification
process and accreditation process. That’s the goal,
that’s our end mission with the network is to get that
recognized for all of our coalitions.

AM. Maybe we can take some time and kind of zoom
out a little bit and take a look at the state of sober
living today, not just in California, but countrywide.
What’s going on, you’re dialed into all of that.

JC. We sure are, one of our board members is actually
a national organization that’s developed a nationally
recognized standard, that’s the National Association
of Recovery Residences, NARR are is the acronym and
NARR has started to do some outreach to allow this set
of standards, very network like, in other areas of the
country. We are going to other states: just in the last
month, Dave Sheridan went to JC. Ohio, the state of
Ohio had a formal gathering on how to set up basically
a sober living network for the state of Ohio, and he
was one of the guest presenters. I am actually flying
out to the state of Florida here in a couple of weeks
to teach this new organization of recovery residences
how to do inspections, exactly what we’ve been talking
about. They ran into the sober police problem with
members inspecting homes as a police force and being
very restrictive on who gets in and who doesn’t get in.
We’re trying to teach the culture of what we do here
in Southern California, and that is now what we do.
We’re seeing development of more and more of these
organizations nationwide, and it’s in response to the
national push back where we see local governments,
again back to the advocacy piece, it’s in response to
the fact that there are a lot of states, cities and counties
that are passing ordinances trying to shut down this
type of housing. So it’s kind of a give-and-take that
nationally the vision of the network is expanding and is
now national organization that is even taking it to the
next level.

AM. I know that there are some federal protections for
sober living environments. How do those protections
work?

JC. I wish better. But, bottom-line, if you are recovering
from drugs or alcohol, you are a protected disabled
person. And so, in a sober living environment, you
have a protected disabled class, and that protected
class is recognized as any other protected class, and
according to the fair housing laws, and we won’t even
talk about the disability laws, just fair housing, you
cannot discriminate - you cannot put rules on a type
of class of people, whether race, religion, age, sexual
orientation, disability, and there’s a couple more that I
messed because there are seven of them, but disability
is one of them. Recovering alcoholics and recovering
addicts have been specifically recognized as a protected
disabled class for federal fair housing laws. So
there’s your barometer; trying to restrict, regulate, conditionally
use, put rules, permits, licenses on this type
housing is illegal in fair housing law. That is the message
and training that we’re trying to get out. On the
disabilities argument, the American’s with Disabilities
Act has even stronger protections than the federal fair
housing laws. When you put those two laws together,
the disability and federal fair housing laws, then you’ve
got a very strong case whenever somebody tries to
regulate sober living homes. Our job is, we don’t want
to fight cities any more, and we want to work together
because in fighting nobody wins, not even the attorneys,
as most of our attorneys do thing pro bono
because we’re poor. The fact of the matter is that they
win: We win in federal court, but to take a city issue
through the court process through the District Court
process into the federal court process into the appeals
process. This is years and hundreds of thousands of
dollars. And, by the time is done, you know, we’ve got
this whole set of other ones that are following up that
same pipeline. A better job is let’s learn the laws and
let’s help the cities find ways to take care what their
real problems are that they perceive as sober living
environments.

AM. What I’m hearing you say is that there are laws
that protect the disabled class citizens, such that cities
and counties are not able to develop zoning requirements,
because this is how they control properties
through zoning and planning commissions, so they’re
not able to create zoning requirements that specifically
state that you cannot have chemically dependent, or
addicts, of a certain number in a certain home. Those
kinds of rules are illegal according to these federal laws,
does that sound correct?

JC. Correct.

AM. Okay, at the same time, to fight that city or that
county is really a difficult task. It takes too much money
and too much time and by the time that’s accomplished.
Well, we’re really not serving the population
that needs to be served, which are those recovering
people that need the housing.

JC. Correct.

AM. So the advocacy effort, I suppose, would be more
along the lines of working with the cities and counties
and states to help them to understand what sober
livings are all about, or what quality sober livings are all
about.

JC. Both. We’re developing a training through SAMHSA,
that gives a grant to develop an advocacy training,
and there are four-parts to the advocacy training and
you just named two of them. The first part is that it’s
important to recognize that we have a drug and alcohol
problem; a big drug and alcohol problem.

AM. In your experience, do cities not recognize that?

JC. They do not at the level that it needs to be recognized.
They’ll give it face value, they’ll say sure we
have a drug and alcohol problem. But nobody realizes
that this is an epidemic; it is the number one public
health issue in the country. They’re talking about
the kids now, and the stats are coming out about the
college-age kids, you know, we’re losing this. This is not
good, so we are bringing that up to them. The second
thing is that we are bringing up the rights of disabled
people that are living in these houses, we are going
over the rights with them. Now we have to recognize
that cities are not making up these complaints, they
think there’s a big problem with these houses.

AM. Certainly, and I think in certain cases, there are
problems with houses.

JC. There are problems with houses and that’s the
point we would like to make. They are not necessarily
sober living houses. Let me give you an example, I
went and met with the Redondo Beach Police Department
just three weeks ago and they talked about a
sober living house. It had two hundred forty service
calls over the last eighteen months. Yes, that’s a problem,
I saw the rap sheet. I said, you know what, that
looks like a problem house. I asked what some of the
charges are that you have: possession of heroin, possession
with intent to distribute, and they started reading
these drug charges about this house. After about
three or four, I said can we all agree that we wouldn’t
call this a sober living house? They looked at me with
kind of a blank stare, then they said I guess you’re right.
I said one of the things we want to recognize with a sober
living environment is that it’s sober, and so let’s talk
about problem houses as problem houses, and let’s
talk about sober living environments as sober living
environments. If we can separate those two things and
deal with problem houses in the communities that’s
great. Now, if there is a sober living environment, truly,
that is causing problems, let’s use the same amount of
force that we need to solve those problems from that
house as we would with this problem house that has
two hundred forty complaints. What we would like,
again, as an organization is for cities to start, it may not
be a panacea, but there’s no harm, there is no exposure,
there’s no liability to the city, to recognize the
quality environments that we have recognized in our
organization. The city can recognize them; and they
can recognize quality sober living environments, call
us if there’s a problem with one of them, to make sure
that we’re good neighbors in the community. It’s a
starting place, a good starting place. Like I said, it may
not be the panacea, but it’s a good starting place.

AM. The Network is making great effort in regard to
advocacy, and that filters down through the coalitions,
and some of the coalitions have chapters, down to the
chapter level. What can people within the recovery
community do to help with the advocacy? What can
the individual do?

JC. In recovery, become active. Point in fact, is the
city of Los Angeles tried to pass and ordinance to shut
down sober living homes. This was five years ago. It
started with just us pushing back. Five years later, a
coalition of nonprofits was formed, because when the
city tried to pass an illegal housing ordinance, we let
everybody know that is not just affecting the housing
of people in recovery. It is affecting the housing disabled,
mentally disabled, physically disabled veterans,
seniors, students, and we value housing, I think I have
made that point, we see housing as critical and something
that we will fight to defend. By activating more
people outside of the network, we were able to at least
push this ordinance back to committee and it hasn’t
seen the light of day in five years. It takes action when
they hear about something that could affect, and maybe
it’s not going to affect you personally, but there are
a lot of people trying to recover from this disease of alcoholism
and addiction, and if you hear of a cause that
resonates with you, and you think you can show up to
a zoning meeting, or a city council meeting… The first
two or three are going to be a little nerve-racking, after
that starts to get fun. You can show up to these things
and you can get a bigger voice. Again it’s the template
of what the network is: pull more and more people together,
we start talking with a bigger voice, the bigger
voice starts getting heard, and then policy can change.

AM. Is it helpful for individuals to write letters or visit
their local Assemblyman or Councilmember or State
Senator?

JC. Absolutely. My experience was, I was terrified
the first time I went to just meet a City Councilman,
because they’re held in such high regard and they’re
very busy, but after you’ve met with them, it only takes
two or three visits to realize that there just they’re just
people and you are one of their constituents, and they
will listen to you. You will get a meeting with them
because they work for you. It’s an empowering type
thing. We like to mentor folks, so I’d like to put that in
the piece. If anybody wants to get politically active and
don’t know how to start or what to do or how to get
that first meeting, call the Sober Living Network, we
would be happy to do ride-alongs, and bring them to
our City Council meetings.

AM. Okay fantastic. We were talking earlier about
problem homes, and then you’ve got sober living
homes, and then you’ve got quality sober living homes.
I think you can categorized them like that, can’t you.

JC. Yes.

AM. So the problem homes, those are really homes
that need the attention of law enforcement so that
they can get corrected, whatever it is, the illegal activities
that are happening inside these places, and they
can deal with that. So let’s not talk about them. Let’s
talk about sober living homes and quality sober living
homes, and what’s the difference?

JC. The difference, right now, is that no one is requiring
that is sober living home meet the minimum standard
of the network to become a quality sober living home.
That’s our goal. So the quality sober living homes,
not only are they meeting a standard that is not being
required, there is an element of altruism through the
members because they are voluntarily meeting this
standard. Does that mean that the ones that aren’t,
aren’t good homes… no. It just means that there is an
element, maybe there, that they don’t see what’s in it
for them. They’ve got a good thing going. I’ve even
heard some homes say I don’t want to stick my head
up because I don’t want it to get knocked off, but that’s
the difference between those types of homes. Now,
there are some homes they claim to be sober living
homes that don’t want to meet a minimum standard.
Maybe their operations allow you to be high in the
home or relapse in the home and that would not fly
with one of the quality sober living homes. So this is
one of the arguments that we use with cities and counties;
to say, look, our standard is not abusive and it’s
not overreaching, but it does require that this home in
order to be called a sober living environment must be
clean and sober. One of our standards is that it must
have a written drug testing policy. We do that, we
don’t administer of log it, but we do require that they
have it. It’s an element for the city, again, the purpose
of our organization is to raise the standard and quality
of all homes, even the ones that are maybe borderline
with our organization. We can help them be less borderline.
Now the homes that fall below the borderline,
I think they fall into what we call the nuisance or problem
homes, and those need to be dealt with differently.
However, our experience over the years shown us that
if you can get the homes to meet this minimum standard,
the quality of all the residents increases.

AM. What is the future for the Sober Living Network?

JC. Next week we meet, for the first time, with this California
State Department of Health and Human Services,
DHHS I believe is the new area where the ADP formally
was. We have put together a memo of understanding
with our friends up in Sacramento with CAARR, who is
the California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources,
they have two or three hundred sober living
homes in Northern California, and we have over 500 in
southern California. So we are going to this meeting
together representing California. Our goal, for right
now, is to start working on formal recognition, at a
State level, of quality recovery residences that adhere
to a standard. Right now the CAARR standard and network
standard are recognizing each other’s standards.
They’re very similar and so we’re going to work together.
We both recognize the NARR standard, and we’re
looking for some sort of State recognition that can be
been handed down to the local levels. Concurrently,
at the State level, again this is the first time we have
ever had a meeting at the State level so we’ll see how
it goes. Locally in Los Angeles County we are presenting
a proposal to the County Commissioners through
one of their Committees to recognize, formally, the Los
Angeles County Sober Living Coalition in the County of
L.A. We currently have recognition from both San Bernardino
and Riverside Counties of our homes. Recognition
is the first step from these organizations. The next
step is referrals to only those types of houses. Those
two things, one, it benefits our members, and two it
starts weeding out those less than desirable homes
because there no longer in the referral sources. At a
national level where we’re member of NARR, and we
are going to help assist nationally as these coalitions
and more organizations are forming nationally, we are
going to be a technical advisor to helping these, like we
are doing in Florida in a couple of weeks, helping them
grow and helping them develop their own network of
sorts. So that’s enough, I think, to keep us busy for the
next few years.

AM. Sure sounds like it. One of the things I wanted to
ask you about, is just to see if there’s anything in the
pipeline, with regard to the funding of sober living
beds. As you know, Serene Recovery Network operates
Serene Center, a thirty-six bed sober living facility, and
there’s not a lot of funding out there for sober living
beds, is there?

JC. None, well that’s not true, very little - very, very little
funding. Ideally, our conversations with the funders,
for example, the County of Los Angeles here in Long
Beach, SAPSI has funding contracts, and we have never
fit in the box for funding as a sober living environment
because we do not provide clinical services. There is
not a box for what we’re doing. Recently, peer recovery
support services that include housing has become a
new term in a funding stream that the county is beginning
to look at. We continue to talk with the county.
We really have enjoyed our relationship with John
Vierness at SAPSI, although he’s retiring at the end of
January, which we are sad about. However, we made
a lot of progress with him and continue to put forth
proposals to where the sober living network can be a
soul referral from the County four county beds as they
come through where people in recovery need that
level of care that we can offer in these peer recovery
environments. So, it’s ongoing, I would love to see that
ability of us being able to be a referral agency with
some funded beds. Because I think it would do a lot
of good, and would be a good use of the Sober Living
Network as well.

AM. I wouldn’t imagine there’s anything in the Affordable
Care Act for this kind of thing?

JC. You never know. I haven’t seen it mentioned, but
I don’t know, as there seems to be a lot going on with
that as is. If there is money for that type of housing, I
do believe it will be coming from outside of the insurance.
AM. There are some misconceptions about sober living
environments. One of those misconceptions is that
they can be just kind of a group of people, and they all
life together, and there is there is no structure, and it’s
just kind of a flop house kind of a thing. Do you want
to clear that up?

JC. Yes. Now in a quality sober living environment,
what we require members to do is to develop a culture,
and it’s the thing that we started our organization on
it will continue, even though its old school now, and
that is the social model recovery modality. What social
model recovery says is that when you get a group of
people together that all are suffering from the same
thing like alcoholism or drug addiction, and you get
them to live together, and you get them talk to each
other, and you get them to do things together, and get
them to go to what we call the greatest social network
of the twenty first century, and that’s the AA meetings,
NA, CA. Quality sober livings are connected to these
networks, and what happens is the bonds that are
developed amongst the residents are the most important
things in keeping them sober of anything that
they do. So the environment, and that’s why we call it
a sober living environment, the environment that you
structure, there is going to be a lot hanging out, and
there’s going to be a lot of talking, and there’s going
to be a lot of support, and there’s going to be a lot of
drug and alcohol free living. If you create that environment,
these guys are going to get healthy and they
are going to move on as sober members of society.
Any environment that you produce, no matter where
it is, that you just throw people in together where
there is no common goal, no common interest, there’s
no outside activities, then you’ve basically created a
flophouse and that doesn’t just happen in sober living
environments. The only way to stop that from happening
is to train people, and encourage people, and
support people, and that’s the reason our organization
exists. My experience, and this is important to know,
for every time there is a problem house, people like
problems they like these blowup things that happen,
and it gets a lot of attention, but what doesn’t get a lot
of attention are these silent community resources that
have been existing in our communities for decades,
where there are absolutely no problems, and all they
are doing is producing productive members of society
that are taxpaying citizens, and that’s a boring story.
Okay, but that’s what we do, so what we’re trying to do
is take the spotlight off of, and not ignore the problem
houses, but if there is truly a problem house let’s deal
with it as a problem house, and let’s start recognizing
that these houses; for every one problem house, I think
the number ratio is that there’s thirty good ones. So,
I’m going to start focusing on the twenty nine good
houses instead of the one problem house. I have got
a lot of experience with this and we are going to start
shining the light on what a great community asset and
resource that these twenty nine houses, versus this one
problem house, are.

AM. Do sober living homes have to be twelve step
based?

JC. No, absolutely not. There are many ways and pathways
to recovery. We do not, as the network, require
them to be twelve step based. We talk a lot about
twelve step recovery. I got sober in twelve step recovery.
It seems to work best for most, but by no means
is it a requirement. We have some great faith-based
houses, we’ve got a couple of holistic houses, we have
one in San Diego that is yoga-based, and it’s kind of
cool. But the answer to your question is no.

AM. How about the Oxford House model? That’s been
around since the forties?

JC. Oxford House actually started in the seventies.
Now the Oxford Groups, which is different than the
Oxford House, started way back in the early nineteen
twenties. But the Oxford House model was set up with
a group of guys that got together, in Maryland I believe
was first offered house, and were living together
as social model recovery. And the city tried to shut
them down and they fought back, and they developed
a structure; and it’s self-governed, it is more of a
social model kind of method than a lot of the houses
in Southern California. Oxford house has been very
successful, I think their seventeen hundred Oxford
Houses worldwide today. They get direct funding for
the organization from Congress of the United States.
So they’re set up in Washington, and they do really
good work. Almost all legal precedent protecting our
right to live together as recovering people comes from
Oxford House cases.

AM. Sometimes people get confused with terminology
around sober living homes; like people say halfway
house or three quarter way house, I’ll even hear Florida
Model homes. What’s the difference? What is all this
stuff?

JC. All of these names have existed and they’ve all
meant something different as connoted. Halfway
house and three quarter way house were for parolees,
for years and years, they would come out of jail and be
halfway between prison and release, or three quarters
of the way between prison and living. Before and
while the sober living term in fact has been around
so long that it almost has a negative connotation. It
was one of the reasons that the new organization we
started nationally is called recovery residence, because
it’s connoted with a little less stigma to the term. But
all of these homes basically are the same thing as long
as they’re sober, a three quarter way or halfway house
doesn’t necessarily need to be as sober living environment.
What we try to do with our time terminology
now is do what the state of California did to identify
as a drug and alcohol free house. Sober living doesn’t
exist, is not a facility, is not a noun, it’s a sober living
environment; it is simply an environment where there
are no drugs or alcohol. It doesn’t necessarily need
to be a bunch of different alcoholics living together.
Mormons can have sober living environments, a lot of
Muslim families have sober living environments. There
are a lot of families that live in sober living environment
and were trying to equate what we do as an organization
to that exact. It’s that type of environment, then
what you have around that environment is the support
structure. What are we doing to connect them to
outside services, what are we doing to connect them
to support? Recovery support, whether it be meetings,
outpatient therapy, whatever, medical, jobs; that’s
kind of the next level of what we want our sober living
environments to do, is to help these guys not only stay
clean and sober, but then move on and better their
lives.

AM. Fantastic! Well you’ve just given us tons of information
here today, I really appreciate it. Maybe as a
final comment, can you let us know how would we get
in contact with the Sober Living Network if we want
more information or some of these trainings?

JC. That’s easy, our website is where everything is, and
that website is soberhousing.net, and we’ve got 800
numbers and we’ve got phone numbers, but by far the
best way to contact us is through the website.

AM. Jeff Christensen, Executive Director of the Sober
Living Network. Thank you so much for your time.

JC. Thank you Andrew, that was an absolute pleasure.

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