Politicians Right to Question Oxford Houses

Paul Molloy was a drunk working on Capitol Hill.  He ended up in a psych ward, then a county-run halfway house. When the county closed the house, Molloy and fellow residents sought to keep it open. They agreed to share rent, require residents to be sober, and make decisions by majority vote. The model worked.

Sober and back working on Capitol Hill, Molloy got the chance to tell President Ronald Reagan his story. That led to a federal law requiring states to establish revolving loan funds to help establish “sober living homes.” Molloy’s model – now known as Oxford House – has expanded to 45 states, including Mississippi.

Things were going smoothly in Mississippi – 13 houses opened since 2013 with support from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (MDMH) – until last month when an Oxford House opened on Northside Drive in Jackson. That’s when concerned residents contacted Republican State Sen. Will Longwitz.

Citing “serious shortcomings,” Longwitz concluded MDMH “is failing to oversee the operations of Oxford House” and called on the agency to stop its support.

Last week he gained two powerful allies. Gov. Phil Bryant called on MDMH director Diana Mikula to stop supporting Oxford Houses. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann ordered Oxford House Inc. to cease and desist soliciting charitable contributions “in and from the State of Mississippi.”

What began as a not-in-my-back-yard protest from northeast Jackson residents has become an expose’ questioning the operation of Malloy’s model.

Mikula says MDMH decided to support Oxford House in 2013 “because it was the only evidence-based sober living home model” endorsed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Recovering addicts and alcoholics must apply to become residents, have jobs, and promise to stay sober.

Longwitz points to serious behavioral problems Oxford House residents have had in other states as well as in Mississippi. He points to no supervision of any activity in the homes, recruiting tenants from jails, and no mandatory criminal background checks for sex crimes as serious issues. He says he is concerned “Oxford House is focused on opening new houses, not on quality control.”

Oxford House Inc., located in Maryland and run by Molloy, receives federal funds to support its operations. The company licenses Oxford House charters in states that set up the sober living homes as residences protected by the federal Fair Housing Act. In this masterful setup, despite federal funding, the homes operate unregulated…normally an ideal Republican setup.

But, apparently, not in this case.

Longwitz says years ago when the federal government set up seed money grants for sober living homes it recommended  that states set up “quality control” regulations to make sure the programs were operated “in a legal, viable, and effective manner.” He wants the state to establish such regulations.

Though the Oxford House concept may be good, the politicians are right that rampant expansion without effective protections should not be tolerated.

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