Our guest speaker on Tuesday, March 26 was Fred Way, the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences, also known as PARR. In 2011, Way started the organization in Philadelphia to assist individuals in opening and operating recovery residences, but expanded across Pennsylvania as demand for the program grew in other counties. PARR has since expanded to include its own training center, office, staff of eight, and has certified over 170 houses across the state. Way informed us that many of the individuals seeking to open recovery residences are doing it on a voluntary basis, typically owning a vacant property. In Philadelphia, Way explained that there are two systems: funded and unfunded. In an unfunded system, residents have an orientation period in which they do not have to pay for housing, but then need to be looking for a job and eventually pay a resident fee. Way also gave us insight into the process of opening a recovery residence, which includes zoning certifications and licenses. Single-family homes may house up to three non-relatives, but once the number goes past that, the property must be zoned as a “Rooming House.” Owners will also need a Commercial Activity License, as charging resident fees constitutes a business. Alongside these measures, Way explains that there are certain requirements of the property that need to be met, such as one bathroom per eight individuals, square footage per resident, exit signs, fire extinguishers, and fire alarms. Once all requirements are met and inspected, PARR can certify the residence. Way stated that, while certification is voluntary, many people do it to operate with integrity. He also mentioned the fact that if the recovery residence is operating correctly, you shouldn’t be able to tell it’s a recovery residence.
Something I found interesting from this presentation, was the last sentiment about recovery residences being unidentifiable if they’re run correctly. We talked about how to gain community acceptance for the recovery residences, and a lot of the discussion revolved around educating people on what a certified recovery residence looks like. I found it interesting that Way said community members were more open to the residences when it was explained to them in a meeting beforehand, rather than a situation where someone was running a recovery residence, and the community members found out after-the-fact. Way told us that recovery residences tend to be rejected by the community because the community members only have an image of what a bad recovery residence looks like, and lack the education on how they truly operate. In some cases, the education is still not enough to sway people’s opinions. From other conversations we’ve had this semester, I’ve found that ending the stigma related to substance use disorders is probably the most pervasive issue, and this shows it’s impacting the housing issue as well. We also talked about some of the future projects and needs that PARR plans to address, such as opening another women’s methadone house, opening sober housing around Temple University, and working with the city to open housing for men and children. I believe that these are worthwhile projects, and am especially interested in learning more about the housing for men and children, as Way said it has potential to be the first of its kind.