Halfway There—Three Options for Sober Living Homes

By Christopher Tepedino 07/29/14

Sober halfway houses provide a place to start over, but how do you find the house that's the best fit for you?


For a considerable amount of time, alcoholics and addicts in treatment were faced with a difficult decision—where to live after completing the treatment program. The decision was not just limited to those who lacked homes or families they could stay with. Rehabs regularly say one should avoid "people, places and things" that are associated with using, so those new to sobriety are urged to gain sober time in a safe environment.

Originally, the term "halfway house" was used for facilities that helped people transition from incarceration into society. For a period of time between six months to a year, former inmates, and later those in recovery, could live in a structured environment designed to provide a safe space while allowing the resident more freedom and responsibility. 

Then, because the term “Halfway house” began to pick up negative connotations, names were changed. Nowadays, transitional residences for recovering alcoholics and addicts are called "recovery houses," "sober houses," "clean and sober living residences," and so forth, in addition to halfway houses. The aim of these facilities is to provide time and structure needed for long-term sobriety.

The problem soon became apparent. With no regulating body and an organically growing service, no one could agree upon a set of rules or guidelines for sober living houses. The Oxford Group had its own rules and guiding principles, the National Association of Recovery Residences another, and soon the alcoholic and addict who was about to leave treatment faced a new problem: too many choices rather than too few.

What follows is a series of profiles which attempts to provide some clarity about the types of sober living houses that are available in the U.S. Two are in cities near the coast—Cary, North Carolina and Hollywood Beach, Florida. The other is in Champaign, Illinois—where a new sober living house is about to open via a not-for-profit organization.

C-U at Home and the Recovery House in Champaign

Melany Jackson has three major projects ongoing for C-U at Home, all of which are aimed at helping the homeless population in Champaign, Illinois. One in particular is the C-U at Home recovery house, a small residence set up for recovering addicts. The house residents include three newly recovering alcoholics and addicts and one recovery leader with a minimum of a year of sobriety. The men share in the expenses of the house, with a case manager handling their finances.

The requirements for the four men to get in the program were simple. They have to have "completed successfully a rehabilitation program and to be sober since that time,” Melany said. “This person is either working or will be working to find a job.”

The leader sets the tone for the house, the “fabric” of the house really, as Melany puts it. There’s the practical work, the scheduling of different household chores such as laundry, and more intangible items along the lines of “leading by commitment to recovery” and “the meetings [the resident] attends, the sponsor he interacts with, the daily devotions he completes.”

Melany anticipates that the leader will be a strong model of recovery for the other men in the house.

There are many rules of course. Some are lease-related and others are sorted out between the individuals and their case managers. There is a weekly house meeting and a weekly devotional, with a curfew set at night as well. Finally, there’s a zero tolerance policy for using. Break that rule and you are immediately asked to leave.

“We have a requirement that they are involved in a 12-step program, but that can be AA or NA or Healing Journey, Celebrate Recovery, or others. Each has to have a sponsor or mentor, someone who’s walking by them side-by-side through recovery.”

All men signed an agreement that they would live in the house for at least six months. Six to 12 months is the norm, at which time the men have potentially become self-sufficient enough—and have built up enough savings—to transition to a place of their own. And hopefully, one of the men will become the next leader of the house.

It’s a tight-knit group that will soon enter the C-U at Home’s recovery house and residents have some flexibility about how they grow in their recovery. What happens when the tables are turned and a national organization takes hold?

The Oxford House: Over 1,200 Houses and Counting

The Oxford House concept is simple in theory. “Oxford House is a concept in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. In its simplest form, an Oxford House describes a democratically run, self-supporting and drug free home.

“Each House represents a remarkably effective and low cost method of preventing relapse. This was the purpose of the first Oxford House established in 1975, and this purpose is served, day by day, house after house, in each of over 1,200 houses in the United States today.”

As far as national organizations of halfway houses go, it is huge in scope. But in terms of structure and rules, there is a paucity of both.

According to the Oxford House 2011 manual, “there is only one rule applicable to all Oxford Houses: i.e. membership is conditioned on not drinking.” Other rules have a tendency to develop from the membership of the house itself, the manual continues, but they should only come into being if they are absolutely necessary. More rules, less success, the manual implies.

Like the C-U at Home recovery house, Oxford House group members are required to put forth their share for expenses. Also like the C-U at Home recovery house, a weekly meeting is held with all residents in attendance.

As the saying goes in the manual, Oxford Houses are less like an institution and more like a family.

While Oxford House is not affiliated directly with Alcoholics Anonymous, some of its nine traditions are eerily similar to those used by the 12-step group and even Tradition Four of Oxford House states that “Oxford House is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, organizationally or financially, but Oxford House members realize that only active participation in Alcoholics Anonymous offers assurance of continued sobriety.”

The screening process for new members seems to be scant, with an emphasis placed simply on not drinking and using and being committed to recovery by going to meetings on a regular basis. 

The subtext within Tradition Seven states that it “is inconsistent with the Oxford House system of democratic rule to have a professional manager of Oxford House. Likewise, it is inconsistent with the Oxford House concept to have a requirement placed on members to utilize the services of psychiatrists, doctors, or even the program of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous except in very special circumstances.” 

In the guide for new Oxford Houses, there is a checklist to follow which includes how to manage money (setting up checking accounts, having an equal share of the expenses per person), how to maintain sobriety (frequently go to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings), and a guide for officers, their responsibilities, serving terms, and so forth.

It’s both similar and dissimilar to the model C-U at Home uses, the major differences being the amount of people allowed at each - Oxford House is set up for 6-15 residents - and the emphasis on Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous as the only mode for recovery.

There doesn’t seem to be an emphasis on “graduating” from the Oxford House program or for the men or women to transition to their own places. The goal seems to be to create a community of recovery-minded alcoholics and addicts, with an emphasis on 12-step recovery.

The Three-Quarter Way House: The Final Stage of Transition

Harmony on the Beach is a blend of a halfway house and a three-quarter way house, all in Hollywood Beach, Florida, near Miami. It’s strictly for women and like the other two featured organizations has a strict no-tolerance policy for drinking and using. The rule is set in place for the benefit of the residents, the organization says.

Many seem to regard three-quarter way houses as the last rung on the ladder for transitioning from treatment to independent living, but Harmony offers structure, support, and community.

In service for 10 years, Harmony has developed its own set of rules that have been implemented over time and through experience. They include committing to six months of residency, passing drug screens, having a 30-day period of sobriety at the time of entry, attending regular Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, paying rent, and adhering to curfew.

At Harmony, it comes down to respect - for residents, yourself, and sobriety in general.

While recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is its first priority, Harmony places an emphasis on holistic recovery, meaning building self-esteem, working on life skills, and increasing employment opportunities.

Similarities and Differences and What Kind Should You Choose?

All three organizations say they are committed to recovery, all three require some form of payment, and all stipulate a recovery program for their residents, whether that’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or, in the case of C-U at Home, other options.

Oxford House, while the largest, has the purported fewest rules per house, with only one rule—don’t drink or use, no matter what—set in stone. It also differs in that it puts all emphasis for recovery on 12-step programs, particularly Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Harmony on the Beach combines 12-step recovery with life skills training, self-esteem building, and help with continuing education. It also has a curfew and random drug tests, as well as a 30-day sobriety period required for admission.

It’s difficult to determine which sober living facility will be the most successful as there are scant hard statistics to prove efficacy of halfway and three-quarter way houses. Even the definitions don’t generally help, as each organization has its own way of running things. While this is a broad overview, any potential sober living house should be carefully evaluated by the person leaving treatment, his or her professional team, and his or her loved ones.

Christopher Tepedino is a writer based in Champaign, Illinois. He last interviewed a sober man with leukemia.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
christopher tepedino.jpeg

Christopher Tepedino is a writer based in Champaign, Illinois. He last interviewed a sober man with leukemia. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter.