Sober house

RJM Homes LLC’s recovery home on Parkview Street does not have a city variance, according to Manchester records.

Parole officers do not check to see whether recovery homes are properly permitted by local government before they place parolees in them, according to the state’s head of corrections.

Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks said that parole officers inspect every place where a parolee plans to live for weapons, drugs, alcohol or potential problems. But they do not check for a permit.

“We’re not going out and doing what a land-use officer, a zoning board or a planning board would do,” Hanks said. “I don’t think anyone’s asked us to do that, to be the auditing arm of a local municipality.”

She also said she would want to see the outcome of a piece of legislation designed to encourage certification of recovery homes before she decided whether to restrict parole and probation placements to such homes.

Her comments come as Manchester city officials grapple with the issue of recovery homes in the city. Two weeks ago, the city Zoning Board of Adjustment rejected an after-the-fact variance for a recovery home in a North End neighborhood near the Currier Museum of Art.

The following day, city police warned that a man living in another recovery home had broken his parole, fled the city and should be considered armed and dangerous. Kevin Paul, who was present when an Epsom police officer was shot 23 years ago, was arrested last week in Texas.

Last week, aldermen had a wide-ranging discussion with city officials, who said they wanted to see state regulation of recovery homes. City officials said they are cracking down on homes that aren’t properly permitted, but they say more regulation is needed. In the past they have expressed concern about their legal standing if they go too far, according to previous articles.

The city fire chief has estimated that 50 to 60 such homes exist, but city officials say they’re not sure if they have accounted for all of them. They have asked residents to contact city officials to report suspected recovery homes.

Recovery homes located across the state are intended to offer supportive environments for people trying to break addiction to drugs and alcohol. They can be industry-certified programs that offer staff oversight and structured time centered around sober living practices. Or they can be households of people trying to stay clean and sharing rent and household chores.

But most are not known to the city. The homes meet different sets of standards, if any at all. Some are registered with the state, and others are not.

The house at 40 Russell St., for example, meets national standards set by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities; it is one of only three such homes in the city. But it is not listed on a state-run voluntary registry of New Hampshire recovery homes that the state maintains. Nor is it certified by the New Hampshire Coalition of Recovery Residences (NHCORR).

Parolee Kevin Paul had lived in two recovery homes in Manchester. The company that owns the homes, RJM Homes LLC, is listed on the state’s voluntary registry, and the company’s Lake Avenue house was certified by NHCORR. But the home he left on Parkview Street does not have a city variance, according to city records.

Manchester has only two properties that meet NHCORR standards. Nashua has 12.

NHCORR Executive Director Kim Bock said the state organization is affiliated with the National Association of Recovery Residences and has those standards to provide safe and high quality housing for persons in recovery.

“The certification process is rigorous and examines policies and practices within a recovery home to help assure that people in recovery have access to supportive, ethical, safe, affordable, drug- and alcohol-free residential home environments,” Bock said.

The standards also require homes to be good neighbors.

Bock said she welcomes the opportunity to talk with towns and neighborhoods about voluntary certification and the standards.

In the Legislature, most of the focus has been on Senate Bill 633, which would create a voluntary certification program for recovery homes. Certification would be based on standards that NHCORR follows or similar ones.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig has called on the Legislature to mandate registration and state regulation of recovery housing. Hanks testified in support of the bill.

“Right now, they’re not certified,” said Hanks, who said the program in place now, which only provides state registration, is neither voluntary nor mandatory certification. Certification implies that industry standards are being met.

“I think it would be more powerful if it was mandatory, but I defer to my partners at DHHS,” she said, referring to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

She wouldn’t commit to limiting placement in certified homes. At least not yet.

“I couldn’t comment on what my policy would be at this point, but I would think more favorably of a recovery home that was certified,” she said.

Thursday, October 22, 2020
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