Signs of the Time: Neighbors Protest Sober Homes in Their Community

WSVN — Tonight, a standoff in one South Florida community and this battle’s front lines are front lawns. Investigative Reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.

The Deerfield Beach community of Deer Creek is home to folks from every walk of life, but some new neighbors here are not being shown the welcome mat. In fact, they’re being told to get out in dozens of signs in front yards throughout the development.

Cristina Delgenio: “It says, New Directions, go away. You’re not welcome here.”

Mike Melendez: “Mine says, New Directions, our neighborhood is not a business. Leave now.”

The neighbors are taking aim at New Directions for Young Adults, a program which operates two so-called sober homes that have opened in Deer Creek. The group homes serve young people with various disabilities including recovering drug addicts and alcoholics.

But neighbors here are concerned about the impact on their community.

Jim Kirkpatrick: “If the only thing that I can do, because I’m not in law, I’m not in government, if the only thing I can do is put up a sign, then I’ll put up a sign.”

As 7News has reported, people in recovery live together in sober homes to get back on their feet and the homes are opening throughout South Florida. Critics contend they are businesses that do not belong in residential neighborhoods.

Cristina Delgenio: “There is profit involved into this. It’s a business.”

Jim Kirkpatrick: “We as a community are going to continue to use our first amendment rights. To let the business know that we’re not interested in the business being here. Not the people. The business.”

But the courts have been clear, it is about the people. Those in recovery are considered disabled under federal law and denying them the right to live where they want amounts to discrimination. There is little cities can do.

In agreements with Deerfield Beach, New Directions is allowed to have six unrelated people living in one home. Five in the other.

Dr. Andrew Rubin is the Executive Director of New Directions. He did not take us up on our request for an interview but his attorney sent a statement that reads in part, “The neighbors ignore the struggles of people in recovery.” Adding, “The neighbors’ protest signs are a step backward in the progress we have made in America to ensure fair housing for all.”

Mike Melendez: “I’ve got a newborn son and the idea that, you know, he can come home and tell me who our neighbors are because we’ve been living next to them for years versus there’s a new person coming in every six months. It’s a concern of mine.”

Cristina Delgenio: “I’ve been here for 14 years. I know most of the people on my street and I want to keep it that way.”

Carmel Cafiero: “With the homes open, the silent protest goes on. So for now, all signs point to this neighborhood dispute continuing.”

Carmel Cafiero, 7News.


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New Directions’ Statement to Channel 7 Regarding Neighbors’ Hostility to People in Recovery

When Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, we were a nation segregated by race and ethnicity. The original Pledge of “allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” was idealistic and aspirational.

It took 62 years after that for the Supreme Court to outlaw racial segregation, and another 96 years for Congress to outlaw discrimination against persons with disabilities in housing, including people in recovery from substance abuse.

Last month the City of Deerfield Beach granted New Directions a reasonable accommodation to allow young adults with disabilities to reside in the Townhomes of Deer Creek neighborhood in the City. The City’s decision was met with protest signs and hostility by the neighbors toward New Directions and its disabled residents. The neighbors’ actions are yet another chapter in our unfortunate history of housing discrimination against people who need legal protection against discrimination in housing.

The neighbors’ hostility toward New Directions and its disabled residents disrespect the fundamental values that underlie the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act-eliminating discrimination in housing. In particular, the neighbors ignore the struggles of people in recovery, especially those in the early stages of recovery, who need to live in recovery residences (the correct term) surrounded by other people who are committed to and will support and reinforce sobriety.

Indeed, the neighbors’ protest signs are a step backward in the progress we have made in America to ensure fair housing for all. Ninety years ago a federal judge wrote:

[T]he blighting of property values and the congesting of population, whenever the colored or certain foreign races invade a resident section, are so well known as to be within the judicial cognizance.

Ambler Realty Co. v. Village of Euclid, Ohio, 297 F. 307, 313 (D. Ohio 1924). Judicial hostility against certain Americans based on their racial or ethnic backgrounds was then so entrenched that judges made no attempts to mask their contempt for racial and ethnic equality.

Nearly 50 years ago, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, which ended such overt judicial hostility to fair housing for people of racial and ethnic minorities. Discriminatory statements were no longer “polite.”

However, many of our politicians and neighbors continue to use code words to mask discriminatory attitudes. They also use scare tactics, including the false threats of an increase in crime and a decrease in home values, so that current neighborhood residents would sell their homes at depressed prices to the same brokers. That practice was called “blockbusting.” The echoes of these scare tactics reverberate today in each and every statement made by those seeking to prohibit the “commercial enterprise” of recovery residences in residential neighborhoods.

Twenty-five years ago, people in recovery routinely were forced by local zoning laws to live in commercial districts where they were surrounded by “triggers” such as bars and clubs, ensuring the likelihood of relapse. That is why Congress expanded fair housing protections in 1988 to protect people in recovery and prohibit local governments from using zoning laws to discriminatorily exclude sober living groups from single family neighborhoods.

Alcoholism and addiction are serious problems facing our communities. We can help fight those diseases not by excluding persons in recovery as neighbors and taking away their rights, but by providing them with the opportunity to live in homes and communities that support sobriety.

Equal opportunity and fair housing benefits us all. America has made progress toward equal opportunity, but the neighbors’ actions and hostility show that we still have barriers and obstacles to fair housing that need to be overcome.

New Directions sincerely hopes that its neighbors will reflect on our Pledge that we are “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”