How to Find a Quality Halfway House in the United States

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HALFWAY HOUSES*

The first thing you need to know is that most halfway houses are NOT regulated. Many operate without a state license. Most halfway houses, regardless of whether they are licensed or not, do a great job at helping a person stay sober, and can assist a person in reconnecting with family, and also becoming a contributor to society. Many Halfway Houses operate without a license simply because the licensing agency and/or the zoning commission prevent halfway houses from operating in their neighborhoods by restricting census (total amount of residents in any single location or house). Few halfway houses can stay open when a licensure agency and/or zoning department tell them they can only have 4 residents in a large 4 bedroom house. Few places can keep their doors open with these unfair and illegal tactics due to the large overhead incurred (lights, electricity, heating, cooling, insurance, mortgage payments, staff, etc.). What is most important is how they go about helping people to stay sober and keeping residents on track- what is their main focus, making money or helping people- this is typically the main difference between a quality run halfway house and a poorly run facility. There are many questions to ask to determine the difference between the two. Are they staying on top of their resident’s sobriety? How do they maintain a clean and sober environment, etc.? Do they have rules? What are the rules? How do they enforce them? Always ask to see a copy of the rules!!! Are they a coed facility? Typically, a male or female only halfway house has better odds at maintaining sobriety and dealing with length of stay issues. You will want to know what happens if you come home drunk at 2 A.M. on a Friday- do they just kick you out of the halfway house into the neighborhood? Do they have protocols for dealing with this and many other possible scenarios? Find out how they deal with situations before moving in. You should definitely be given a complete tour (especially visiting exactly where you are going to be placed), along with explaining all the rules and regulations, as well as a residents responsibilities. Note: Most Halfway Houses require, at least initially, a resident to have a roommate, as this helps make sure a person is accountable by at least one other person besides the House Manager and the General Manager/Owner.

You should take note of how the place looks. A few years ago I was involved in property assessments for a program helping mentally ill patients. One of the first things we would take note of is whether there was grass growing in the cracks of the concrete. Another item was the condition of the landscaping (was the grass mowed, the bushes trimmed, the trees pruned, etc.). We would then move on to how the paint looked, the roof, whether the windows were clean, etc. With this same approach, you should be looking to see how clean the house is. Are the grounds well kept? Is the roof showing signs of possible leaks? How does the entire exterior look? What shape is the room you will occupy, etc?

Another issue you may find at halfway houses are the managers. Most, if not all, are in recovery themselves. There is a big difference between what is called a General Manager and a House Manager. It is very typical, and normal, for a house manager to have only a few months clean and sober. This does not mean the halfway house has poor management. It is not so much time clean, but the quality of clean time that matters most. It is typical that a House Manager will move on to getting their own place by the time they get 6 months to a year clean, so this makes sense why House Managers have little clean time. On the other hand, the General Manager typically has years of sobriety. What’s most important is how many years the General Manager has running a halfway house system as opposed to how long the House Manager has clean. A General Manager that has both years of sobriety coupled with years of experience running a halfway house is a winning combination.

One of the most important factors in whether a halfway house is of good quality is how the General Manager and/or Owner deal with the overall handling of each and every resident. They should be forever vigilant, and firm. They should be able to tell you how often they are around the residents and the house, and if they run more than one house, they should be able to tell you how they stay on top of all their houses- what system is in place so that residents and houses are not left unattended for any length of time. A quality run house should require a length of stay commitment from the potential resident prior to moving in (this is usually anywhere from 3 months to 1 year- the longer the stay, the higher the success rates). All facilities should be set up so that every resident MUST report to the General Manager or House Manager, and that the House Manager reports directly to the General Manager or Owner. A quality run halfway house should have sign in/sign out sheets designating why a resident is going off grounds including where they are going and what time they will leave as well as when they will be back- make sure there is a system in place that checks and verifies this information both before a resident leaves and how they appear upon return. This includes going to work, a job search, (this should include a separate list of places they are applying at and how long they will be at any one given employment office/business), 12-Step Meeting attendance (this should state which meeting, time of meeting, and any other important information), visiting family, (who, where, etc.), visiting a friend (This should be looked at by the General Manager/Owner and not just the House Manager- keeping in mind that certain people and places are off limits), as well as any other reasons and times for leaving the house- responsibility and accountability are important components at a good halfway house- look for this.

Money is another issue. If a person will be tempted to drink/drug, a quality house should have a safe place to hold a residents money. If, for instance, a resident has another person (family member, case worker, etc.) paying for their stay at a halfway house, this money should go directly to the company/Owner, and not to the resident. Employment may be required as part of a residents stay, and there are certain high-risk jobs that should not be allowed by management. These include driving a cab, working at a bar, graveyard shifts, and working too many hours that the resident does not leave time to engage in their recovery effort. More information on typical fees can be read further down on this article.

Responsibility- Most halfway houses require residents to attend what is called “House Meetings.” House Meetings should occur on specific days at specific times, for the purpose of reviewing how a resident is doing, if they are attending 12-Step meetings, counseling sessions (if offered), and any other issues that may have come up during their stay. Most good halfway houses require residents to attend either or both inside and off grounds 12-Step Meetings (Typically 12-Step attendance is a minimum of 1 per day initially, and at least 3 meetings per week as a maintenance level- most quality houses require a resident to have a sheet signed by the meeting chairperson stating the name of the meeting, day, date, and time). It is very important how a halfway house handles a residents free time (at least for the first 30 days), as new residents should only be allowed off grounds with a stable resident to go with them, and it should be noted if they are utilizing this privilege without abusing it. Typically, a new resident may be restricted to the unit for the first few days. After between 1 week and 30 days, if a resident has shown responsibility and accountability, a resident will be allowed more freedom, but keep in mind that a quality house should always have curfews in place regardless of length of stay. Most will have specific wake-up times. It is also important to find out how they handle visitations (family, friends, case workers, etc.) Free time includes going to off grounds 12-Step Meetings, working with a 12-Step Sponsor, working the 12-Steps, etc. Free time is extremely dangerous for a newly recovered person, so a good run house should have programs and activities to keep them occupied. Most require a resident to do chores (gardening, sweeping, cleaning, cooking, etc.) and these are usually done without pay. If a resident has a vehicle, it should be either paid for or they are making payments on it- these payments should be verified as being up to date. A resident must be properly and currently licensed to drive it, and the tags should be current as well.

On another note, the level of care at a halfway house can vary greatly. Some offer the bare minimum- a bed with a roof over it. Others provide counseling, 12-Step Meetings, guidance, true random drug testing of their residents, food, and transportation to/from outside meetings, job coaching, training, placement, and many other services. The key is to find a halfway house that is run well, as well as one that meets your needs. Keep in mind that many who choose, or are placed into, a halfway house do get better and can stay sober, but this requires a combination of resident dedication and good management. Also keep in mind that halfway houses are not treatment centers, not a place of luxury, and definitely not responsible for a person’s sobriety. Be aware of so-called “flop houses” which are just places to sleep without any supervision or accountability- these usually have high rates of failure/relapse. Some houses deal with dual diagnosis issues (substance abuse and mental health problems). Most provide a safe place, depending on the quality of the program, a facility manager and/or owner to oversee it, and some basic needs for the person living there. Please don’t start checking out various halfway houses with the expectation of going to a country club, or more importantly, that everybody who is there is happy, healthy, and mature individuals- remember, they too are trying to get their lives together; some for the first time after decades of abusing alcohol and/or drugs- in other words, there is no perfect fit. If you are in need of detox services, this should be done with medical supervision- withdrawal can be deadly without the proper medical care in place- you may need to go to a separate place to detox safely before moving into a halfway house. If a halfway house provides detox, they should have qualified medical staff to deal with this issue- make sure you verify credentials.

It helps to keep in mind why you are going to live at a halfway house… and that reason is, to be at a place that is alcohol and drug free, to be surrounded by people trying to build a better life for themselves, and a place that will keep an eye on you until you start to get on a successful path to making your life better. Keep this on your mind the whole time you are in a halfway house!!! Besides the basics provided, at a typical halfway house, be grateful if they provide anything else for you- remember your purpose for being there (to get a good shot at sobriety) and don’t expect extras. There are many resources within each state to help you obtain a list of halfway houses near you (see resources below this article). Keep in mind that the lists provided to you contain mostly licensed facilities- a licensed facility does not mean they are better- just that they do a good job at paperwork and at paying licensing fees.

A CASE IN POINT

I had a very, very, very dear close friend named Bob (actually he was the best friend I ever had in my 50+ years on earth) and he had been sober for 6+ years. He took a relative, (who was actively using drugs) into his house to help him get his life back in order. As time went on, this relative and his influence took my friend Bob down the dark path of relapse. I worked as best I could with Bob, being that I was in Southern California and he was in Mesa, Arizona. Bob decided he had enough, and wanted to get clean again. Bob checked into a licensed halfway house and 1 day into staying at the house he had to pick up his last paycheck, so he could pay his rent at this halfway house. The halfway house let him leave alone, to get his check- a bad move on the managements decision to allow him to go by himself to do this (all they were concerned with was getting rent money from him) and so he picked up this large check and immediately got a hotel room, drugs, and proceeded to get high. Bob died in that hotel room. A quality run halfway house, licensed or not, would never have allowed him to do this, considering the risk, as a quality run halfway house would have arranged for the employer to mail the check, or that the House Manager or General Manager would have escorted Bob to the company and made Bob accountable and would never have permitted him to cash it and be left to his own devices- alcoholics/addicts are impulsive, especially early in their road to recovery- and Bob would have returned to the halfway house and the manager would have held his money to pay rent and also, hopefully, given him money to live on, but not enough to get high on. It is, in large part, the halfway houses part to intervene and assist a newcomer in making sound decisions instead of an impulsive weak moment that eventually lead to Bob’s death. I continue to place a large amount of blame on this halfway house for playing a large role in my dear friends death. Had Bob been in a quality halfway house, licensed or not, he would still be alive today. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss my best friend. This article is dedicated to him in the hopes it doesn’t get repeated.

Additional Information

A special amount of attention should be paid to the weekly costs and up front monies a particular halfway house charges to their residents. Typical average charges at halfway houses from state to state in the USA run from $90.00 to $150.00 per week. Some will take anybody in without upfront monies as long as the facility is reasonably confident the resident is either employed or employable and will be able to make their weekly rent payments and be able to make up for back rents. Some houses require up front monies prior to admission, a security deposit, and rent paid in advance. This may be a barrier to getting into certain facilities. There are no insurance companies that cover halfway house rents, unless the house provides specific treatment, counseling, etc., and even at this, it is difficult to get insurance companies to commit to extended periods of coverage. Also of concern, is if the resident is able to work- A Halfway House is a business, and overhead plays a big part in whether or not they can keep their doors open. It doesn’t do much of anything if all the right pieces fall into place at a quality house, if they can’t pay the bills. Many facilities go under, not because they don’t care or want to help, but simply because they have too many residents who are not working, not enough residents, some who can’t work, or are unable to cover and/or pay back the rent payments owed and/or the initial move in costs.

So what can you expect for the amount of money you pay to a halfway house? This varies greatly. For some houses it is all-inclusive, meaning they provide everything from phone service, food, counseling, job seeking assistance, etc. For others, they may offer some or none of these services. Much has to do with whether you are going, or sending someone, to a 1/2 way house, or to a 3/4 house, or a sober living environment, recovery home, etc. (see additional information concerning this factor below). Typically, a Halfway House is for those just starting to get their life in order. A 3/4 house, sober living house, recovery home, etc. does not provide the intense monitoring of their residents. The residents pretty much go and do as they please, without meetings, UA tests, or signing in and out, as opposed to a quality run halfway house that should monitor all activities and services. It is best to check out what type of house you NEED and are interested in- this includes going to the possible house, talking to current residents, and checking out the outside as well as how the internal accountability (both for residents and managers/owners) factors are carried out on a daily basis.

An additional word should be mentioned about the differences between a halfway house and a ¾ house, sober living home, recovery homes, etc. There is a distinct difference in all of these compared to a typical halfway house operation. First off, a halfway house is typically the place to go to, or be referred to, when someone has been actively using drugs, drinking alcoholically, or has been discharged from a treatment center or a prison for a non-violent drug offenders. It is not a detox ward, (unless they state this service is provided), as detox should be handled only by a medical facility run by professionals, (doctors, nurses, etc.).

So, how do you know you are going to a quality run halfway house? This requires research, asking many, many, many questions directed to the owner and/or halfway house manager. NOTE: If they don’t answer their phone calls or emails, don’t return phone calls or emails, will not give you a tour, or have an attitude of indifference towards you for asking so many questions, it is best to find another place and start the process of finding a quality run halfway house all over again- keep in mind that you are literarily placing your very life into their hands, so you don’t want to get this wrong.

Finally, It should be noted that a good halfway house needs to run successfully- this means not only helping people, but also, meeting the bottom line financially. Residents must meet their full monetary obligations- paying rent (on time and in full) and be actively involved in their own recovery, as this resident accountability factor plays a major role in success or failure. Sometimes a person fails/relapses, so find out what the procedure is for re-admittance- some will never take back a resident who relapsed while in their halfway house program, others may require a period of time clean before accepting a person back. It is the responsibility of the resident to know what happens if they relapse- where will they go, will the halfway house assist them in securing a place to live, what are the options available to them. The bottom line is to ask, ask, ask… Read the full article with more resources at nicd.us

*This article is written by Stephen J. Murray, NICD Director for use by individuals, family members, referring agencies, (Treatment Centers, Detox Facilities, Social Workers, Case Managers, Courts, etc.), Halfway House Managers/Owners, and Other Professionals who are looking for a quality halfway house.

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