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Jamie Deans, senior director of communications at Sovereign Health, said he would welcome a “good neighbor” policy between the health care provider and the city. Photo: Eric Heinz

By Eric Heinz

For people trying to live in a sober environment due to struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, San Clemente can seem like an unwelcoming city.

A vocal, organized movement of people who speak at City Council meetings, protests and events are trying to eradicate sober living homes from the city.

Of these providers, Sovereign Health, a licensed provider of mental health as well as alcohol and drug dependency treatment  that is based out of San Clemente, has claimed it is being targeted because it is one of the larger companies that provides services.

Jamie Deans, senior director of communications for Sovereign Health, said the company has launched a five-part public relations series addressing NIMBY-ism, or “Not In My Back Yard” policies.

“In most cases the neighbors don’t say much, but there are pockets where (opposition) has been activated,” Deans said. “Whenever we have an issue with neighbors, we try to address it as soon as we can. We go to the city and try to settle the issue.”

NIMBY basically is the attitude of someone not allowing an entity to exist because they don’t like it, but the concerns range from safety to economic.

“NIMBY is an issue that’s happening all over the country,” Deans said. “It’s not just in Southern California. It’s a somewhat complicated issue that is clear to us that most municipalities don’t have a clue what they’re dealing with.”

Deans said there’s a common misconception regarding which facilities need to be licensed and which ones don’t, and the information is not always available.

The city of San Clemente sued Sovereign Health when a moratorium was enacted last year, and Sovereign countersued in federal court.

Sovereign Health operates a few homes in San Clemente in which Deans said there is always a staff member at the treatment and care homes. Cities cannot zone-out companies that provide homes for clients living there during their treatment at the facility due to provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act that classifies recovering addicts as a protected class, but there are requirements for licensure to provide certain services and on-site treatment.

Under Sovereign, staff members must go through internal training and cannot have been in treatment themselves for more than a year or so, but they do not need a specific degree.

Sovereign Health treats mental health and other ailments in addition to its alcohol and drug recovery programs.

“When these cases have gone to court, almost without exception, they’ve been ruled in favor of the sober living provider because they’re protected,” Deans said.

Sovereign Health conducts contraband checks and makes efforts to detect any drugs that have been snuck into the home, which Deans said rarely get by inspections.

Deans said he is hoping cities will adopt a “good neighbor” policy with Sovereign in order to address some of the issues residents have brought forth.

As early as Aug. 11, Sovereign has claimed neighbors in the 2900 block of Via San Gorgonio have broken into the home and threatened employees of the treatment provider. On Aug. 17, a gathering of residents protested Sovereign Health operations in the home, and on Aug. 19, the treatment provider said residents once again broke into the home.

“What these neighbors didn’t know, because they never bothered to ask, is that Sovereign Health has always planned to give this community exactly what it wants: a licensed facility in full compliance with California state regulations,” Sovereign stated in a press release. “The license for the home is currently being processed by the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). No patients will reside in the home until all the licensure has been completed.”

Residents around the city of San Clemente have been actively protesting sober living homes for years now. The concerns run from safety of children who live within a limited distance from the homes as well as the effect of sober living homes on their property values.

The way in which Sovereign gauges its performance of a sober living home is the performance of its home managers.

People who come to Sovereign Health are there voluntarily. They only leave if they’re kicked out due to violations, choose to leave or have completed their treatment. Deans said none of the clients of Sovereign are required to stay.

This, opponents argue, has created a contingency of people who are on the streets or can’t get back home. As a national organization, Sovereign has patients from all over the country as well as locals, Deans said.

“We can help them get to John Wayne Airport or the bus stop or help them get to wherever they need to go, but if we get there and they say ‘no,’ that’s their decision,” Deans said. “It’s not that we don’t have compassion or understanding.”

Another sober living provider, Sober Network Properties, in currently in litigation with San Clemente resident David Hurwitz, who sued the provider, claiming they’ve disrupted his neighborhood. SNP filed a countersuit against Hurwitz in June, and officials stated they intend to sell the home because of the animosity it has received.

“This sale has nothing to do with the lawsuit against us,” SNP stated in a release. “We have other properties in San Clemente, and they too are the subjects of our own countersuit against the city and Mr. Hurwitz. Our countersuit continues regardless of the fact that we are selling the property on Lampara, and we have no plans to vacate our other San Clemente properties.”

SNP is also in litigation with the city.

This article has been updated. 

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comments (4)

  • A good neighbor would not bring problems to the neighborhood nor would a good neighbor profit from their neighbor’s upkeep.

    These businesses want to move into a well kept neighborhood so they can attract clients. The client’s insurance pays handsomely and the client leaves. The clients have no desire to maintain a good neighborhood; especially if they are only temporary stays.

    Do the people living in the neighborhood get anything from the business? No. The business and the business client’s just take, take, take while the folks living in the neighborhood and who make, or by definition are, the neighborhood, have the responsibility of allowing all their work go to pot or continually proving free marketable locations for the business owners.

    These business owners are scum.

  • make them move and move often , stop the depression of our property values

    their addiction is a chiouse not a handicap

  • Rather than react line by line to this story, I’d rather share a quote from a patient of Sovereign Health that I found online; “The absolute worst rehab I have ever been to. My family was told it was a twenty bed facility and when I got to the San Clemente location, there were hundreds of patients, meaning no individual attention. They then moved me to the Palm Springs location in the middle of the desert. The housing was a broken down motel with multiple girls to a room. The most beds I saw in a room was about seven and it was very cramped….At the beginning of my stay, they told me I’d be able to see a psychiatrist, the earliest appointment being three days before I was supposed to go home. They also over and under medicated people. There were girls spun out on too much Valium and Suboxone and the other girls freaking out, having panic attacks, and cutting themselves from lack of medication. One girl had a full blown schizophrenic episode for three days before they took her to a hospital or contacted her family. Because there was no real sceurity in this motel location, girls were literally having people drop drugs off at their back door because they let you hold onto any money you have. One girl got caught buying drugs out back, did said drugs, failded a drug test and got her graduation certificate the next day and went home. I could go on and on about this place but I’m done. I stuck it out for three weeks before I called my family and told them what was going on and they immediately flew me home after my “therapist” admitted to them what was actually going on there. They are the most neglegent (sic) facility in this country. Someone’s going to overdose and die there and they’re gonna get sued, or someone’s gonna kill themselves from not getting proper medication. I hope it’s not your loved one. You have been warned!!!”

  • The Sober Living Home sham is one of a long list of ill conceived actions (packaged as good intentions) by the state and federal governments, foisted on the public, that has been hijacked by lobbyists, real estate speculators, and insurance scammers. It is a classic “Poverty Pimp” feeding trough that exploits the vulnerable, fleeces desperate families; and cashes in on bad policy. It is nothing more than a government guaranteed money train constantly fed with desperate repeat customers. The idea of concentrating a number of highly troubled and dysfunctional individuals with substance abuse problems in a virtually unsupervised setting in the middle of neighborhoods so they can be daily herded into an outpatient rehab facility is a guarantor of trouble. Its legacy of overdose deaths, nuisance to neighbors and degradation of the security and financial well being of an already stressed middle class in this country is nothing more than a testament to the “pay for play” mindset of Sacramento and DC and the all out war on what is left of the American middle class who cannot even find safety and security in their own neighborhoods.

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