Sunday, June 17, 2018
Editorials

Halfway houses need better oversight

Halfway houses are supposed to be a way station for those in society who have stumbled but need help getting back on their feet. But a lack of regulation in Tampa Bay and beyond means that too often in Florida unscrupulous operators — many of them felons themselves — have turned them into cash businesses that exploit the ex-convicts and substance abusers who need them. Some local efforts are underway to address the problem, but true reform will require action by the Legislature.

An investigation into halfway houses in the region by Tampa Bay Times senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin uncovered a morass of problems. Without a licensing requirement or state regulations setting minimum operating standards, halfway house operators make their own rules. In some homes, residents are housed two or three to a room. This is a lucrative business if each person pays $500 per month, meaning a three-bedroom house with two residents per bedroom can bring in $3,000 per month. But residents too often don't get what they pay for.

Martin found some homes don't provide the promised counseling or 12-step programs. Some were filthy, insect-infested and tolerated drug use and violence. Several homes were run by felons with serious criminal records. And in some of the worst homes, staff confiscated residents' paychecks and demanded drugs or sex. At least three people have died of drug overdoses at unregulated homes in the state.

People land in halfway houses after coming out of detox programs where they have tried to rid themselves of a drug or alcohol addiction, or they are offenders released from jail who are trying to keep from returning to an environment that got them into trouble. While many excellent transitional housing programs are there to help, including places like St. Vincent de Paul in St. Petersburg and New Beginnings of Tampa Inc., too many take advantage of a vulnerable population.

A new regime of licensing, reporting and oversight is needed to protect halfway house residents trying to make a break with their past. Florida's Department of Children and Families should be put in charge. The agency is already responsible for oversight of transitional housing programs that receive money from the federal Access to Recovery grants, and in general DCF is charged with overseeing social service providers. An oversight program of halfway houses that service veterans, run by the federal Veterans Administration, could serve as a model.

In the meantime, area detox facilities, courts and hospitals could weed out bad actors by not making referrals to them. Martin found these institutions will sometimes recommend a halfway house based on a slick yet dishonest brochure, website or sales pitch. A coalition of groups that assist substance abusers and the homeless in Pinellas County is trying to address this by creating a "preferred provider" list of halfway houses that permit inspections and meet certain standards. It's a start.

Regulation and oversight will cost the state money. But without it a housing option that is supposed to give ex-offenders and addicts a chance at a new life will breed social ills instead, costing taxpayers and society more in the long run. State lawmakers need to address this during the 2013 legislative session.

Comments
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

This fall voters will have 13 constitutional amendments to wade through on the ballot, but Amendment 4 should get special focus. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes t...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

The Trump administration just can’t stop sabotaging Americans’ access to health care. Instead of giving up after it failed to persuade Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it continues to quietly undermine the law in ways that would reduce acc...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Parkland students set example for advocacy

Music is healing. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High School put that theory on display Sunday night in New York with their stirring performance at the Tony Awards — beautifully.The students, all from the school’s drama department, bro...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/13/18