No one denies people addicted to drugs or alcohol need help.
The problem is where those people get the help they need and whether they are wanted in the neighborhoods of Cottonwood.
Angela Lozano, owner and operator of a number of safe and sober living houses for people in recovery, asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to grant her a conditional use permit for her homes on 12th and 13th Streets.
At the Aug. 18 P&Z meeting, the board made clear safe and sober living homes will not be allowed in residential areas.
The discussion started with a review of the Federal Fair Housing Act by City Attorney Steve Horton, who said the fedearal law overrides any local city ordinance when housing for those with disabilities is in the wrong zone.
Horton told the commission the city cannot discriminate against those in recovery. Specifically, alcoholics are not considered disabled under the federal law, but if they are in recovery, they are considered disabled.
Terry Haig, a member of the Block Watch Program, a citizen volunteer organization that keeps an eye out for criminal activity, told the commission the sober houses are directly detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhoods and Cottonwood in general.
Haig said she is not trying to get the sober living homes shut down, only that Lozano has been operating the homes illegally and they have to be shut down.
“I could care less about what she is doing,” Haig said. She believes Lozano and others who own and operate similar homes are doing so simply for profit.
She said she had not asked to meet with Lozano, to tour her homes or to review the program and structure.
Haig said she felt it was not her business to find out if the person who owns and operates the programs has integrity, but does question if Lozano is a person of integrity.
She later said the real issue for her is the “Not in My Backyard” concerns. She said very few people would want to deal with this in their neighborhood and that is simple human nature.
Catholic Community Charities Site Director Carol Quesula expressed disappointment at the possibility Lozano will have to close her sober living homes.
She said the homes meet a definite need in the community for those being released from jail or prison who have no job, no home and no family to take them in.
The chances of those individuals returning to their former lives of addiction and crime is incredibly high, she said.
“Closing the homes down would just perpetuate the problem, as these people would go back to their former lifestyles,” she said.
Quesula said CCC’s Families First Program works closely with the DUI/Drug Court overseen by Judge Ralph Hess, the substance abuse treatment programs at Verde Valley Guidance Clinic, Child Protective Services, Yavapai County Adult Probation and most specifically, Lozano’s sober living homes.
“The danger these people are hollering about [endangering the health and welfare of the residents of Cottonwood] is about to happen when Lozano is forced to shut down,” she said.
Yavapai County Adult Probation Supervisor Karen Desmond said there is a desperate need for clean and sober housing, and Lozano is hoping her appeal to the Cottonwood City Council will result in the granting of her request for the conditional use permit.
“If the two locations are closed, desperately needed clean and sober housing will be lost. Our community cannot afford the loss of these houses,” Desmond said.
She also said there are currently no women’s safe and sober living homes, other than Lozano’s, in the Verde Valley. This would force women whose children and families are in Cottonwood or the surrounding areas who need a sober living home to move to Prescott.
Lozano said when she bought the home on 12th Street, the sober living program had already been running for eight years.
She told the commission she wrongfully assumed she was operating in a legal manner and admitted this to the commission.
Lozano also told the commission she believes it is important to keep the homes open in the 12th and 13th Street neighborhoods because they are in the heart of the city.
Many of the tenants no longer have driver’s licenses, and she provides them with bicycles to get to work; their Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings; Intensive Outpatient Substance Abuse Therapy through the Verde Valley Guidance Clinic; and to meet with their families.
Robert Richards spoke and said the homes were in the wrong place, and the application should be denied. He spoke of a neighbor who got into “trouble” and went to a home in Prescott where he got the help he needed.
Richards later said he was not knowledgeable about the homes or programs and basically did not do any research. He only showed up to the P&Z meeting and was really only asking questions.
Lozano said she really hoped the P&Z Commission could understand the difference between running a business and what she is doing — providing a public service to the community.
In the end, the commission said loud and clear, “no.”
Commissioner Darold Smith was visibly upset, shaking his fist and waving various papers around, while saying loudly the application was asking permission to run a business in a residentially zoned area. He said the application had nothing to do with the fact Lozano was asking the commission permission to keep her sober halfway homes running.
Smith said the health and safety of the citizens of Cottonwood were in jeopardy if the halfway homes were allowed to continue running.
Chairperson Jim Gillespie said denying the application is to send a loud and clear message to anyone else running such homes that they were in violation and would be shut down as well.