Two south county coastal cities continue to see rising numbers of drug overdoses along with increasing fatalities.
In Boynton Beach, police responded to 398 overdoses in 2016 resulting in 35 deaths.
As of May 22, Boynton Beach police responded to 240 drug overdoses with 25 fatalities this year. If the overdose pace continues, the city will see 2017 overdoses eclipse last year’s number in late August.
Delray Beach also has an escalating problem with overdoses. Many occur in its central core, between the interstate and the Intracoastal Waterway, according to police data.
City police responded to 690 drug overdoses in 2016 with 65 of them fatal. As of May 18, police responded to 289 overdoses with 26 deaths this year. If the overdose pace continues, Delray Beach will see 2017 drug overdoses pass last year’s total in late November.
As more powerful synthetic drugs are mixed with heroin, police in both cities don’t expect the overdose numbers to decrease.
By Jane Smith
Two Delray Beach city attorneys unveiled their consultant’s study of group homes to a rapt audience in mid-May at the Palm Beach County Sober Homes Task Force meeting.
The study calls for mandatory certification of group homes and a distance requirement of 660 feet between them to avoid a clustering of the homes in a neighborhood. If both can’t be met, then the group home operator would have to apply for a special permit from the city to open for business.
“The time is right for this,” said Terrill Pyburn, a special attorney hired by Delray Beach. “We now have data from the Task Force and all of the arrests. … It’s not just people crying wolf.”
The State Attorney’s Task Force was formed in July. Its law enforcement subgroup has arrested about 30 treatment center and sober home operators on patient brokering charges.
Delray Beach, called the “recovery capital of America” in 2007, has been fighting that branding for years.
In 2012, it settled a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by the Caron Foundation. Caron wanted to open a recovery residence in an oceanfront mansion, but the city’s rules at the time denied it. Under the settlement, Caron was able to open the seaside sober home.
“The goal of the zoning regulations as they are being drafted is to protect residents of sober homes from abuse, mistreatment, exploitation, theft and fraud — and to ensure the support needed to achieve long-term sobriety,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said in an email. “The proposed regulations are being drafted to save lives.”
Plans call for the group homes ordinance to be reviewed this month by a city board, then onto the City Commission in late July or early August.
In January, Delray Beach commissioners hired a longtime planner, Daniel Lauber from the Chicago area, to study group homes in the city.
His 57-page study was finished in early May. He found the city had many more than its share of group homes.
City planning staff identified 183 sober homes, said Tim Stillings, planning director. “We have a list of all those properties which have applied for reasonable accommodations,” he said. “All are sober homes.”
A sober home is a type of group home where residents are protected by federal discrimination laws when they live together as a family and maintain sobriety.
Lauber also recommended mandatory certification for group homes in Delray Beach. For sober homes, the state recognizes the Florida Association of Recovery Residences as the certifying body.
The consultant also helped Prescott, Arizona, draft its group homes ordinances with an 800-foot buffer between the group homes.
The ordinance was twice investigated for violating the Fair Housing Act by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. One complaint was dropped in 2015 and the other forwarded to the Justice Department. In February, the Prescott city attorney said he had received a letter saying the Justice Department dropped its investigation, according to news reports.
At the Task Force meeting, moderator Al Johnson, assistant chief state attorney, said, “I wish the Prescott investigation had resulted in a court case. We need that to convince the state Health and Human Services Department in 2018 that certification of sober homes should be mandatory.”
Delray Beach City Attorney Max Lohman replied, “The biggest win as a municipal attorney is Justice saying it is closing the investigation.”
But attorney James Green, who represented the Caron Foundation, said, “A sober home operator is not required to exhaust administrative remedies by filing a HUD complaint first.
“The distance requirements generally do not pass judicial muster under the Fair Housing Act. If you want to live in a predominantly sober home neighborhood, you have the right to do it.”
Green said Delray Beach already has the tools to regulate group homes: “Fair application of its zoning codes.”
By Jane Smith
The proposed group homes ordinance in Boynton Beach passed its first hurdle in late May when the city’s Planning and Development Board unanimously approved it.
That approval put in place a “zoning in progress” situation, ending the city’s legally questionable moratorium on group home applications and banning new applications while the new rule is considered.
At the May 23 meeting, the city’s Planning and Zoning director handed out updates to the board members.
“We’re up against the moratorium deadline” of June 4, said Mike Rumpf, the director.
David Katz, the board chairman, asked, “Why not do another moratorium of three or six months?”
Rumpf said it wouldn’t work, “given the subject matter.”
The City Commission will have its first reading of the ordinance on June 20, followed by the second reading and a public hearing on July 18, Rumpf said.
The big changes in the ordinance are: mandatory certification for a new group home unless it has a charter from a nationally recognized group; existing group homes will have until Oct. 1, 2018, to become certified; a 300-foot distance requirement between the group homes; and new parking regulations for the entire neighborhood that require at least one space per bedroom.
Vehicles must be parked in the driveway, if the home has one. The city bans using the front lawns to provide extra parking.
Group homes provide housing for people with a range of disabilities. They can include homes for blind people and for drug and alcohol abusers.
The issue came to the forefront in the past few years as the number of sober homes grew in residential neighborhoods.
Sober homes are a type of group home where more than three unrelated people live together as a family and are protected by federal anti-discrimination laws as long as the residents maintain their sobriety.
In Palm Beach County, rogue sober home operators have given the business a bad reputation with patient brokering charges and illegal marketing ploys.
“We want to preserve the neighborhood character for all,” Rumpf said.
Sober homes want to be in neighborhoods to help their patients re-engage with the community, he said.
Boynton Beach has 50 sober homes and another 14 assisted living facilities, all operating as group homes, Rumpf said.
Of those, seven are certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, the only certification recognized by the state. John Lehman, CEO/chairman of the association, said another 11 Boynton Beach sober homes had applied for certification.
DCF licenses substance abuse treatment centers statewide where addicts first go for inpatient rehab.
Boynton Beach may see court challenges to its distance requirement. Rumpf said 300 feet was included to prevent clustering of the group homes and creating an institutional-like setting.
But some anti-discrimination attorneys disagree.
“Most courts ruled that separation requirements are not legal under the Fair Housing Act,” said James Green, a West Palm Beach lawyer who has successfully sued local cities for housing discrimination against substance abusers.
Boynton Beach also wants to collect annual business tax receipts from the property owner who rents the home and from the group home operator.