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South County Senators Seek Crackdown On Sober-Living Homes

Patch logo Patch 11/25/2019 Ashley Ludwig
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LAGUNA NIGUEL, CA — South Orange County state senators are asking for federal help with a crackdown on what they call ¨unscrupulous sober-living facilities" in their districts. State Sens. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, and John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, have asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to step in.

Last week, Bates and Moorlach wrote a letter stating federal laws regulating access to the disabled are hampering efforts to regulate sober-living facilities.

People recuperating from alcoholism or drug addiction are categorized as disabled under federal law. The two lawmakers say that has allowed some sober-living facility operators to "exploit" transients, using their insurance for profit.

"We've had sober living homes where when the insurance runs out (the clients) end up on the streets," Moorlach told City News Service.

"Opioid addiction has soared and unscrupulous rehab operators have rushed in to take advantage of mandatory mental health treatment coverage required by the Affordable Care Act," the two lawmakers wrote in the letter to Carson.

"The quality of care in these facilities is not consistent and does not always adhere to a specific set of standards," they added. "As a result, patients and their families can be misled, misdirected and misdiagnosed by unqualified individuals. The California State Legislature has recognized that consumers with substance use disorders have disabling conditions and need to be protected.

However, the policies that have come down from the federal level do not allow the legislature to act."

Moorlach and Bates also appealed to the U.S. Department of Justice along with HUD to "issue a new Joint Statement on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act to allow local governments to uphold national standards and best practices in sober living environments for the protection of residents in recovery."

The state senators said a previous statement in November 2016 "only involved zoning regulations and added to the confusion in our districts on this issue."

Municipalities that try to regulate the addiction treatment homes run into "lengthy and expensive litigation, and the legal landscape remains murky," the senators said.

Moorlach said he is also working on reforms in the treatment of the severely mentally ill, which has also contributed to the rise in homelessness.

"I've been working on trying to get funds available to help people with serious mental health issues like schizophrenia," Moorlach said. "The federal rules are hampering us."

Moorlach said two weeks ago the federal government "made an exception for (the District of Columbia) to provide some funding so we see kind of like the window opening a little, so it's probably a pilot project."

Moorlach added, "There's all this money going to mental health, but not to serious mental health issues."

State laws meant to halt "institutionalizing" patients have led to "migrating these people out of institutions into the streets and in jail, so the largest mental health institution in Orange County is at the main jail," he said.

Moorlach is seeking more federal money for "appropriate outpatient treatment to help normalize them and get them back to a normal life, and not back onto the streets."

HUD, for instance, doesn't provide money for temporary housing, "so we need to modify the rules and regulations at the federal level, so I see this (letter) as an effort to communicate something must be done," Moorlach said.

Patch has reached out to sober living facilities in the area regarding the request, and will update this report when a statement is received.

City News Service, Patch Editor Ashley Ludwig contributed to this report.

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