During the past 18 months, the Oxford House, a Maryland-based nonprofit that provides housing for recovering addicts, has nearly doubled its number of sober-living homes in Owensboro.

In mid-December 2017, Oxford House operated five local homes.

On Feb. 15, the nonprofit signed its ninth Owensboro lease for a house on Mayfair Avenue.

Ryan Lehan, Oxford House outreach coordinator for western Kentucky, hopes to secure up to three more homes in Owensboro by the end of 2020.

Presently, Oxford House leases properties on Griffith Avenue, Frederica Street, Wyandotte Avenue, Roosevelt Road, Yewells Landing South, East 18th Street, New Hartford Road, Lewis Lane and Mayfair Avenue.

Lehan lives at the Mayfair Avenue location.

"We pick good locations and provide (residents) with a structured environment so they can learn healthy behaviors," Lehan said.

The Oxford House model has not changed since 1975 when it first started in Silver Spring, Maryland. From the beginning, it never owned facilities. Instead, it leased them from local investors.

Paul Molloy, Oxford House CEO and founder, said there are more than 2,600 Oxford Houses in the U.S.

Each one 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.

Oxford House residents pay a small move-in fee and $115 to $130 a week in Owensboro. Instead of rent, the Oxford House refers to monthly payments as equal expense sharing.

Residents buy their own food and hygiene items.

The focus is on sobriety, Molloy said. Residents must attend a 12-step recovery program.

"The group must expel anyone who returns to drugs or drinking," Molloy said.

In Owensboro, the Oxford House now can house up to 40 men and 27 women. Some homes allow children up to age 16 to live with their single parents.

Currently, there are 14 vacancies.

Men and women do not share homes. Instead, the locations are designated for males or females.

Lehan said four women currently are waiting for an Oxford House opening.

Most local Oxford House locations hold between six to nine residents. Unlike transitional housing, they may stay for several years — as long as they continue to obey sobriety rules and follow their home's guidelines.

People who want to live in an Oxford House must fill out applications. Other household residents vote on whether to accept applicants.

It is lawful for a group of unrelated adults to live in single-family dwellings without zoning ordinance changes, according to the Oxford House website.

"Fortunately, the 1988 Amendments to the Federal Fair Housing Act prohibit discrimination against handicapped individuals. This prohibition requires local governments to make a reasonable accommodation in their zoning laws to enable handicap individuals to effectively deal with their disability," the website said.

Addiction is a disabling condition, according to the site.

Also, the Kentucky Housing Corp. provides revolving loans to help establish Oxford House locations across the state. Up to $6,000 is available for each home to pay security deposits and purchase furniture. Residents of the home repay that loan.

Lehan said integrating into some local communities has proved tough. Oxford House residents who moved to Griffith and Mayfair avenues haven't felt understood or accepted.

"It's very hurtful and harmful for these guys in recovery when they are not breaking any laws," Lehan said. "We're not active users. We are in active recovery. We are seeking to repair the damage in our lives from the disease we have."

St. Benedict's Homeless Shelter seldom refers its clients to an Oxford House location because it's a recovery program, said Harry Pedigo, executive director of St. Benedict's and chairman of the Homeless Council of the Ohio Valley.

However, the Oxford House is an excellent housing option for recovery centers and residents who are transitioning from recovery centers, Pedigo said.

For more information about the Oxford House or its local properties, call Lehan at 502-680-2142 or email him at ryan.lehan@oxfordhouse.org.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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