Bills target sober homes Torrington, New London are affected January 23, 2017 – Local
TORRINGTON – Torrington is not the only town in the state to see a high number of sober homes proportional to its population.
A newly elected Democratic state legislator from New London filed a bill late last week that would make the operators of sober homes register in the town they are in and become certified with their local health department.
Rep. Christopher Soto filed the bill the same week after local legislators Reps. Michelle L. Cook, D-Torrington, and Jay M. Case, R-Winsted, filed similar bills that would require operators of sober homes to register as a business and with the state Department of Public Health, as well as ensure all of the homes’ residents have access to naloxone – also known as Narcan – and know how to use it.
Torrington has two dozen to 30 sober homes in a city with 36,000 people. New London Mayor Michael Passero said that city of only 26,000 people has more than 30 sober homes. Soto believes that number is as high as 50.
The homes stand out even though the intent is to blend into the community.
“Bills have failed in the past because we can’t discriminate against people in recovery,” Soto said.
“That’s not what I’m trying to do. This has nothing to do with people in recovery, the bill is trying to address landlords that are taking advantage of this situation. We want to make sure we have healthy and productive recovery spaces.”
The bills come as the legislators see a high number of suspected fatal drug overdoses in their cities that are happening at sober homes.
In Torrington, there were three in the past month. It’s the same story in New London, 80 miles away on the coast.
“We have a large number of heroin-related fatalities – and saves because of Narcan,” Passero said. “It happens a lot in this city because people are coming into the city for treatment or to buy drugs.”
Passero said city officials don’t even know where all the sober homes are and don’t learn of them until emergency responders arrive for a call.
“Technically, what they are is illegal boarding houses. They get away with it because of ADA” (the Americans with Disabilities Act), Passero said.
“There should be some form of government licensing and supervision.”
In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that recovering addicts are a protected class under the handicapped provisions of the Federal Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988.
A 1997 case out of West Haven prompted a lengthy court battle after that town attempted to shut down a sober home through zoning and other codes.
That case went to the state Appellate Court, which upheld a ruling that the city intentionally discriminated against the residents but overturned a ruling against the fire district, which sought to enforce fire codes.
Soto sees the registration as something similar to what a business would have to do when it opens up in a new city.
“These landlords are operating a business,” Soto said.
Two years ago, a number of bills filed in the General Assembly that dealt with sober homes never passed. Torrington Mayor Elinor C. Carbone said things are different now because the sober home industry has grown, not only in the state but across the country.
Carbone is hopeful that realization will convince legislators of the need to do something.