New sober living house moves in to Glen Erie neighborhood in Craig

An Oxford sober living house has moved into the Glen Erie neighborhood on the northeast side of Craig, sparking controversy among some residents in the neighborhood. 

Oxford homes are self-run, self-supported homes for people in recovery. The goal is to help them build stability for themselves in an environment free of drugs and alcohol.

All Oxford homes are connected to the Oxford House, a nonprofit umbrella organization that provides guidance and resources to Oxford homes across the United States and Canada. 

The Craig charter, Oxford House Elk Mountain, opened in June in a residential home on Langford Drive, purchased by the organization and leased to tenants. The house is set up for an occupancy of eight men in recovery, which was filled almost immediately when the charter opened last month. 

Under the Oxford model, residents can live in the house as long as they abstain from drugs, alcohol and disruptive behavior, hold a job, and contribute their fair share of household expenses and chores. These requirements are upheld by the residents themselves, and as long as the rules are followed, they can stay in the home as long as they need.

Several residents of the Glen Erie neighborhood came before Craig City Council on Tuesday, June 27, to express their concerns about the sober-living home moving into the neighborhood. The primary concerns from neighbors were the residential zoning, safety and that the community wasn’t informed about the Oxford home prior to it opening. 

Craig Mayor Ryan Hess said that based on initial research about zoning requirements, as long as there are only eight people living in the house, it falls under residential zoning. Under state law, the individual tenants do not have to be related in order to be considered a single-family residence. 

“You can’t treat it any differently than a single-family home,” Hess said. 

In addition to state law, Oxford homes are federally protected under the Fair Housing Act, which protects people with disabilities against housing discrimination. Alcoholism, addiction and mental disabilities are federally recognized as conditions protected from housing discrimination.

City officials learned about the Oxford house when community members brought it to their attention, but Hess said that the Oxford House isn’t required to notify the city or go through a permitting process. 

“The transaction is treated like any other private real estate transaction,” Hess said. 

While the opening of the Oxford home in Glen Erie may seem sudden to neighbors, local behavioral health providers and regional experts have been working for several years to find a solution to provide residential sober living in the area. 

“This has been a two-year process — a lot of planning went into this,” said JK Costello, principal and director of the Steadman Group, which has been contracted by Memorial Regional Health for the past two years to lead the Rural Alliance Addressing Substance Use Disorder-Colorado (RAS-Col) workgroup funded through a HRSA opioid response grant. 

Costello said the need for sober living is pretty clear. Craig has a big issue with substance abuse and there aren’t that many residential options within a two-hour radius. 

Costello said the RAS-Col group explored several options for treatment facilities before finding the Oxford House would be the most successful path to bring residential sober living to the area. 

“They’re really good at what they do,” Costello said. “They are like the McDonald’s of residential sober living, and I mean that in a good way. They know how to set it up, run it, fund it and support it.” 

Craig is viewed as an ideal location to establish a sober-living facility, in part, because of the recovery services provided here, including the Providence outpatient treatment program and the peer recovery program through the Health Partnership Serving Northwest Colorado. 

“Nobody in RAS-Col knew a lot about residential treatment, let alone the niche that Oxford House fills with sober living,” Costello said. “It isn’t treatment; it’s residential enforced sober living.” 

Oxford Houses, which were first established in 1975, are set up in residential neighborhoods because it has been shown that residents benefit greatly from integration with community and positive interactions with neighbors. 

“There is a lot of pride in Oxford Houses. Some people live there for a very long time because — I think the longest resident in Colorado is like 10 years — because that’s what works for them,” said Costello. “Oxford publishes their average discharge rates, and it’s not people coming and going. They have some stability there and they become residents and neighbors.” 

Costello said he thinks all of the Oxford residents are coming from the region within a 50-mile radius, and not from Denver or Pueblo. 

In terms of safety, Glen Erie residents brought up the Oxford website which states that 78% of Oxford residents have been to jail at some point, and that on average, residents have been through treatment three times. But Oxford homes have been shown to stop the recycling in and out of jail or treatment facilities.

According to studies from the Center for Community Corrections, group homes do not negatively affect public safety in the area where they’re located. 

Costello also said that Oxford doesn’t accept residents who have been convicted of violent crimes, and sex offenders would have to follow the same guidelines and register just like anyone else living in the neighborhood would.

According to case studies from the Community Mental Health Journal, group homes have proven to have very little impact on their surrounding neighborhoods and generally blend well into the community. The studies reported that community members typically have fewer complaints about group homes than they expected.

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