In essence, NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitudes are nothing more than stigma, said Pete Nielsen, CEO of the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP), speaking at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders in Baltimore. Actions to restrict or legislate recovery homes out of a community are clearly discriminatory, he said.
A number of bills in California have attempted to hamper recovery residences to varying degrees, and some measures are so extreme, they would result in the complete elimination of the services entirely.
According to Nielsen, the states with the worst record of NIMBY friction include Arizona, California, Florida and Texas. He would rather see the recovery community work with the legislators and the neighborhoods to create policies that protect the residents of sober homes while also driving out bad actors involved in patient brokering and other unethical practices.
“There are individuals who are taking advantage of the people we serve,” Nielsen said. “They are predators. There’s no other way to say it. Weak legislation has allowed them to come in and take advantage. Patient brokering, as it’s called, is really just human trafficking.”
Nielsen recommends a three-pronged approach:
1. Work as an industry to self-police—The treatment centers and recovery residences that are making honest mistakes must be educated and “give them grace” to improve.
2. Create smart regulations for local communities—Communicate to local leaders the ways in which your goals align, such as prevention efforts to overdoses, he said.
3. Create smart legislation—Treatment centers can work to educate lawmakers as well as the public at large to overcome NIMBY.
“As providers, we cannot fight the community,” Nielsen said. “We need to be allies in the community. We don’t want people to die. Let’s put some good legislation in place.”
He noted that Orange County California gets about 36 complaints per year about recovery residences—a number that helps demonstrate that the NIMBY crowd might be exaggerating. The top complaint in many instances is that the people living in the homes smoke outside, which the nearby neighbors claim is offensive to them.
Nielsen warned, however, that not every site is an ideal spot for a recovery residence. Sometimes—whether because of NIMBY or not—a location just isn’t a fit.
“Blatant disregard for the neighborhood norms helps no one,” he said.
Instead, he advises looking to local communities as allies, seeking cooperation and showing them what good relationships look like. For example, offer tours of the facility, join the local chamber of commerce or attend council meetings. Take the high road, but expect some pushback nonetheless.
“Just keep saying ‘thank you for your opinion,’ and ‘I want to work with you,’” Nielsen said.