Oxford House is a national organization that touts its ability to help people in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse return to normal society. Several of those in recovery live in each home.
Each home is democratically controlled and has five “officers,” consisting of a president, secretary, treasurer, controller and chores coordinator. Officers cannot hold positions more than six months.
Each home is financially self-sustaining and controls its own checking and savings accounts. Residents must find work within two weeks after moving in.
Residents buy their own food and hygiene items.
The focus is on sobriety, Paul Molloy, CEO and founder of Oxford House, said previously. Residents must attend a 12-step recovery program, he said.
However, some Owensboro residents and recovery specialists have issues with the organization.
Joe Welsh, executive director of Friends of Sinners, said while he supports drug recovery efforts, he has concerns about Oxford House. Friends of Sinners is a long-term faith-based treatment center for men and women.
“What Oxford House is trying to do I think is a great thing, but I think the system is broken in a bunch of different ways,” he said.
For example, he said Oxford House has taken former clients of Friends of Sinners that were kicked out of the program. Welsh said Oxford House’s program is “easier” than Friends of Sinners because the residents have more privileges, but that might not be the best thing for them.
“They’re hurting those guys,” he said, but added, “there are some examples I can show you where guys are doing good.”
One resident (who the Messenger-Inquirer agreed to identify by her first name and last initial because of her profession) recently moved out of her home that was across the street from an Oxford House on Mayfair Avenue.
“We didn’t like it. That’s for sure,” Debra C. said.
According to Oxford House’s website, the 2123 Mayfair Ave. property is named “Neo Park” and can provide residency for up to nine men.
She said she has a 12-year-old and had concerns about leaving her daughter home alone.
Also, she said, Sundays were noisy because of visitation.
She said that once she alerted authorities about the issues, the problems became less severe. She said the occupants of the home weren’t supervised.
“They did straighten up, but I really didn’t want to come home in what I do and look at the same thing,” she said.
The Messenger-Inquirer reached out to numerous Oxford House neighbors who did not want to speak on the record or did not respond.
Molloy said supervision is minimal in an Oxford House. “The inmates run the asylum,” he said.
In Kentucky, Oxford House has a contract with the state. Under the contract, outreach workers will travel the state and help residents rent homes and then teach them how to operate the homes, Molloy said.
There is no time limit for how long a person can stay in an Oxford House but residents can be expelled from the home if they relapse.
Oxford House has nine locations in Owensboro, which are at 1644 Griffith Ave., 3819 Lewis Lane, 1516 Roosevelt Road, 2063 Wyandotte Ave., 1430 Frederica St., 2301 Yewells Landing S., 102 E. 18th St., 2720 New Hartford Road and 2123 Mayfair Ave.
Debra C. said some of her neighbors were unaware of the facility in her former neighborhood. Unlike other organizations, such as Friends of Sinners, Oxford House is not locally run and is based in Silver Spring, Maryland.
It can be tricky for neighbors to find out if an Oxford House is in their neighborhood. Oxford House rents the property for those enrolled in the program instead of owning the property outright, so the organization is not listed in real estate transactions. However, Oxford House provides a list of homes it operates on its website.
Also, because of federal law, organizations similar to Oxford House do not have to go through the local planning and zoning commission so there are no hearings when the organization establishes itself in a neighborhood.
“Oxford Houses are considered (single-family) residences for purposes of zoning. This has always been true in practice and since March 12, 1989, the effective date of the 1988 Amendments to the Federal Fair Housing Act, it has been a matter of law,” its website states. “Those amendments make it unlawful for any jurisdiction to discriminate against congregate living for the disabled. Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are within the scope of the term ‘disabled.’ Therefore, Oxford Houses are not subject to zoning laws regulating the number of unrelated individuals who may live in a (single-family) dwelling.”
Brian Howard, executive director of the Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission, said Oxford House can bypass his organization because residents are essentially a group of people living together and renting from a private owner.
“They don’t function as a typical recovery house,” he said.
Owensboro City Attorney Steven Lynn said there was little the city could do to regulate services such as Oxford House.
“They are considered disabled or handicapped individuals and they meet the definition of family, essentially,” he said.
Molloy said the residents of the house move into the home just like a normal family would. He said alerting neighbors about renting homes beforehand would make them angry.
“That just gets everybody upset,” he said.
Residents who live in Oxford Houses pay about $125 a week, which Oxford house refers to as equal expense sharing, Molloy said previously.
Welsh called Oxford House’s facilities “frat houses” and compared them to halfway houses.
“You go there and pay $500 and you can live there,” he said.
Molloy defended his organization, saying it has helped more than half a million people since it was founded in 1975 and there was likely a need for the homes in Owensboro.
“There’s probably a need or else there wouldn’t nine houses,” he said.
Some acknowledged Oxford House’s efforts to help people in recovery.
Derrick Arthur, executive director for Lighthouse Recovery Services, said he did not have a particular stance on the organization. Lighthouse Recovery Services also helps individuals recover from substance abuse.
“It’s only as good as the economy of the house,” he said.
Harry Pedigo, a member of the Homeless Council of the Ohio Valley, said services like Oxford House that offer transitional housing for former addicts are positive.
“It’s a needed asset,” he said. “It gives people a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and a sense of responsibility.”
In the meantime, Molloy is advocating for more Oxford Houses in the state.
“Let’s hope that everybody calms down in Owensboro and eventually everybody gets clean and sober and stays that way,” he said. “But in the meantime, let’s hope there’s enough drunks and druggies left to keep those beds full.”
Trey Crumbie, 270-691-7297, firstname.lastname@example.org.