Sober Home Crackdown Leads To Rise In Homelessness In South Florida

By Victoria Kim 08/15/17

Some addiction treatment clients are being left stranded after authorities shut down their programs. 

Monochrome photo of homeless woman reading the book in subway under the sunlight

Since the Sober Home Task Force was assembled in Palm Beach County in July 2016, more than 30 people have been arrested for defrauding clients, most of whom came to Florida from other states desperate to beat addiction.

But last week Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said that the crackdown has resulted in rising homelessness as clients become stranded as programs are shuttered by authorities.

“We know we have a homelessness issue,” said Aronberg, who is also the head of the task force. “They’re not going back home to the Northeast. They’re staying in our community.”

As rates of addiction have risen, so has the need for sober homes and rehab programs. Some help, but much of the focus has been on the bad operators in the recovery industry who have been taking advantage of a lucrative industry with little government regulation.

One drug treatment provider, Kenneth Chatman, was recently convicted of reaping millions from his clients. In May, Chatman was sentenced to 27-and-a-half years in prison for crimes including pimping out his clients and running an “addiction brothel,” according to My Palm Beach Post

Other rehab and sober home operators have been accused of fraudulently billing insurance companies, deceptive marketing, and patient brokering: the recruitment of potential clients in need of drug treatment by "junkie hunters" or "body brokers" who then send them to the facilities that pay the most, so they may profit off of the client’s insurance. 

Patient brokering is a third-degree felony, according to the My Palm Beach Post.

John Dudek, one of the men apprehended by the task force, earned $450 for each individual with insurance that he sent to Whole Life Recovery Treatment Center in Boynton Beach. Another man, Alex Vandervert, received $3,335 for the people he sent to Whole Life Recovery. The owner of the treatment center, 56-year-old James Kigar, was the first arrest made by the task force last October.

As more arrests are made, South Florida officials are hoping the momentum will last. Authorities are giving defendants the opportunity to avoid a felony conviction if they give information about other corrupt players in the industry and testify against them.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr