Sober houses' our latest find in pervasive addictions battle

Posted5/8/2016 5:00 AM

Two major projects -- on heroin addiction and mental health -- were envisioned as yearlong efforts but morphed into ongoing stories that have taken on a life of their own.

And that's a good thing.


Unless, of course, the heroin problem, described in some quarters as epidemic in the suburbs, comes to a screeching halt tomorrow. Or the world is quickly eradicated of mental illness and the resultant crime that can go with it.

Yet another example of the endless, pervasive nature of heroin addition comes to the fore again today with staff writer Marie Wilson's first of a two-part series on sober houses -- why they're a pressing need and why they're so scarce in the suburbs. (They don't need licensing and the state has no way of tracking them.)

You'd think that might allow them to fly under the radar and set up shop with little fuss or bother. But much in the same vein as group homes for the disabled or mentally ill, sober houses often encounter the NIMBY syndrome. On top of that, there can be strict zoning issues, while funding woes abound these days with treatment programs.

As Wilson eloquently points out, staying sober requires a multitude of types of help: new routine, support network, faith, change of scenery -- but perhaps most important, a new place to live.

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That place needs to be what we're all looking for in a home: safe, secure, comfortable, in a nice neighborhood, instead of, say, in an industrial park. The notion was summed up exceptionally well by Chelsea Laliberte, founder of the anti-heroin nonprofit Live4Lali in Arlington Heights.

"We all agree that people don't need to die from an overdose," Laliberte said. "If they're not going to die, then why can't we give them somewhere to live?"

Laliberte is one of numerous sources with whom Wilson stays in regular contact. These sources often tip us to new things going on the battle against addiction and innovative ways we are finding to be less punitive and more helping to people whose mental illnesses are the reason they've had scrapes with the law.

Today's story is another example of past sources making us aware of new things. Naperville police a few months ago started a program designed to link heroin addicts with the helping resources they need. It was when Wilson was talking to one of the program's sobriety coaches that she learned he had turned his home in Lombard into a sober house. Ah, Wilson thought, there's something we haven't covered. The up-close look at that recovery home is Part 2 of the series.


"His story," she says, "proves no one person trying to solve the heroin problem can think of everything recovering users need."

Sometimes people in the community come to us after they see we show a deep interest in the topic. Kane County Judge Clint Hull, who runs the county's mental health treatment courtroom, asked us if we'd be interested in sitting in on a day's docket. Again, Wilson was the reporter who did so. She told the very personal stories of people trying to get back on their feet after convictions for nonviolent crimes through the alternative sentencing program, which calls for frequent court appearances, abstinence from drugs, taking of directed medications and participation in court-ordered treatment programs. It's toe that line or go to jail.

Wilson also covered a graduation ceremony in March that saw a 23-year-old from Sugar Grove diagnosed with anxiety and depression ready to embark on a yearlong internship at a funeral home in Elmhurst. But the news isn't all good: About 16 percent of the graduates in the suburbs reoffend; another 39 percent don't complete the program.

There are certain to be more stories, ones we hope will point us in the right direction to find answers to drug addiction and combating the impact of mental health on crime.

"As reporters," Wilson says, "we can never know who might have the next idea that will prove new and different and possibly helpful. All we can do is continue to ask."

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