Recovering alcoholics deserve chance
August 11, 2005
The concerns of a few dozen Carbondale residents over a plan to open a transitional home for recovering alcoholics are understandable but unfounded.Residents in the Crystal Village neighborhood have been pressing Carbondale town government to bar a homeowner there from renting rooms to as many as nine men in early recovery from alcoholism. While several of the group-home opponents made it clear they have no issue with the fact that recovering alcoholics would be residing nearby, they found other reasons to oppose the project.At the Aug. 8 Town Council meeting, opponents said they were concerned that a commercial venture was being located in their residential neighborhood. They also didn’t like the fact that Chris Edrington, the owner of the home in question, had moved forward without first consulting them or the town planning department. And they pointed out that the group home violated the homeowner covenants that were written when the neighborhood was created in the 1970s.Something about this opposition feels disingenuous. One has to wonder if the real cause for concern is about property values, which were brought up by one opponent after the meeting with the Town Council concluded. And we have to wonder if some neighbors simply dislike the idea of living next door to men who are working to overcome their drinking problems.The home itself would serve as a place for men who graduate from intensive, in-patient treatment programs to make the transition back into mainstream society. The owner of the property in question, Edrington, has told town officials he plans to allow recovering alcoholics to live there for up to six months. Tenants will be required to remain sober and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on a regular basis. He also told the Carbondale town attorney that a home supervisor will live nearby.For alcoholics who have spent anywhere from one to six months in a recovery institution, transitional living of the sort planned in Crystal Village is an important step toward rebuilding their lives. This isn’t really a commercial venture; as we understand it, it’s a for-profit rental arrangement that looks much like other rental properties in town that house large numbers of people in relatively small spaces. And while it may have been impolite of Edrington to move forward without notifying his neighbors or the town, it wasn’t illegal.Two federal laws, the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, supersede town zoning rules and homeowner covenants. Alcoholism is considered a disability by the federal government. And federal courts have ruled that local governments cannot use zoning regulations to keep group homes for the disabled from opening in residential neighborhoods. Thank goodness. Group homes like the one planned in Carbondale are designed to help disabled people – alcoholics, people with cerebral palsy, accident victims coping with paralysis – live in the same neighborhoods you and I live in. These men who have been working so hard to pull their lives together deserve that chance.