"Ask the Expert" Welcomes J. Paul Molloy, J.D.

We are pleased to welcome J. Paul Molloy, who is the co-founder of Oxford House and has been serving as its CEO for more than 20 years. Mr. Molloy is a member of the D.C. Bar and before Oxford House, was a law partner in a Chicago firm. Mr. Molloy is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Centers in Bladensburg and Baltimore, Maryland. He won the 2003 Harry V. McNeill Award from the American Psychological Association for innovation in community psychology. Mr. Molloy co-authored “Oxford Houses: Support for Recovery Without Relapse,” and has also co-authored numerous research articles regarding treatment settings.

Question: What is Oxford House Inc.?

Answer: A non-profit, tax exempt, publicly supported corporation which acts as an umbrella organization for the national network of Oxford Houses. It provides quality control by organizing regional Houses into chapters and by relying heavily upon the national network of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups. While Oxford House is not affiliated with AA or NA, its members realize that recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction can only be assured by the changing of their lifestyle through full participation in AA and NA. In most communities, the members of those organizations help Oxford Houses get started and report any charter compliance problems to the national office of Oxford House World Services with respect to a particular house. As soon as Oxford House Inc. hears of such problems, it takes corrective action.

Question: What is the philosophy behind Oxford House?

Answer: The philosophy is three-fold: self-help is the bedrock of recovery; disciplined democracy is vital to living together; and self-support builds efficacy in sobriety comfortable enough to avoid relapse.

Question: How did Oxford House get started?

Answer: In 1975, a tight budget in Montgomery County, Maryland led to a decision to close one of the four county-run halfway houses. The 13 men living in the halfway house to be closed rented the building and decided to run it themselves. They immediately decided to change the halfway house rule that limited stay to six months because they had witnessed that when a person was required to leave because the time was up they almost always relapsed within 30 days of leaving. That was an important change because recovering individuals take different lengths of time to become comfortable enough in sobriety to avoid relapse.

Question: Who manages an Oxford House?

Answer: Oxford Houses are democratically self-run by the residents who elect officers to serve for terms of six months. In this respect, they are similar to a college fraternity or sorority or a small New England town. Officers have fixed terms of office to avoid bossism or corruption of egalitarian democracy.

Question: How long can anyone live in an Oxford House?

Answer: A recovering individual can live in an Oxford House for as long as he or she does not drink alcohol, does not use drugs, and pays an equal share of the house expenses. The average stay is about one year, but many residents stay three, four, or more. There is no pressure on anyone in good standing to leave.

Question: Why is Oxford House self-run?

Answer: Self governance permits individuals in recovery to learn responsibility, and the lower cost associated with self-run housing permits extensive replication of houses. The houses are self-run and self-supported, therefore, it is easier to expand capacity to meet demand rather than requiring individuals to leave in order to make room for newcomers. When demand exceeds the supply of beds, it is traditional in Oxford House for several existing residents to find another house to rent and expand capacity.

Question: How difficult is it to find another house to rent?

Answer: It is no more difficult than for an ordinary family to find a house to rent. Each Oxford House is an ordinary single-family house with two bathrooms and four or more bedrooms. Ideally several of the bedrooms are large enough for two twin beds so that newcomers, in particular, are able to have a roommate. This discourages isolation and helps the newcomer to learn or relearn socialization to get the full benefit of recovering individuals helping each other to become comfortable enough in sobriety to avoid relapse.

Question: Don’t zoning laws limit where a group of unrelated individuals can rent a house?

Answer: Fortunately, the 1988 Amendments to the Federal Fair Housing Act prohibit discrimination against disabled individuals. This prohibition requires local governments to make a reasonable accommodation in their zoning laws to enable disabled individuals to effectively deal with their disability. Alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness are disabling conditions. Oxford House, Inc. litigated the issue and in 1995 the United States Supreme Court considered the issue in City of Edmonds, WA v. Oxford House, Inc. et. al. 514 US 725 (1995). In that case the Court found that alcoholics and drug addicts were disabled within the meaning of the law and therefore a protected class requiring that local governments make a reasonable accommodation in zoning laws restricting groups of unrelated persons to live together. Since then courts have found that the same protection applies with respect to fire safety standards and rates charged property owners for property insurance coverage. In fact, Oxford Houses must be treated the same as ordinary families.

Question: How can one get into an Oxford House?

Answer: Any recovering alcoholic or drug addict can apply to get into any Oxford House by filling out an application and being interviewed by the existing members of the House. The application is then considered by the membership of the House and if there is a vacancy and if 80 percent of the members approve, the applicant is accepted and moves in. If an applicant does not get voted into one house he or she should try another house in the area.

Question: What if there is not an Oxford House in the area or there are no vacancies in any Oxford House in the region?

Answer: Any group of recovering individuals can start a new Oxford House. All they need to do is to find a house to rent in the name of the group, and apply to Oxford House, Inc. for a charter. The house must be able to accommodate at least six residents. There is no charge for an Oxford House charter. The charter gives a group of six or more recovering individuals the right to call itself an Oxford House and to use the Oxford House system of operations set forth in the Oxford House Manual, forms and other publications. The charter has three conditions: [1] the group must be democratically self-run following the procedures of the Oxford House Manual, [2] the group must be financially self-supporting and pay all its own bills, and [3] the group must immediately expel any resident who returns to using alcohol or illicit drugs. The charter is granted on a conditional basis for the first six months to insure that a new group understands and practices the 36-year old standard system of operations. Once a group has demonstrated that it understands and practices the standard system of operations it is granted a Permanent Charter, which has the same three basic conditions – democratically self-run, self-supported and expulsion of any resident who returns to using.

Question: Is there any financial aid available to start a new Oxford House?

Answer: Yes, some States have in place a revolving loan fund that can make loans to cover the first month's rent and security deposit (up to $4,000) to rent a house in a good neighborhood. If a State has a revolving recovery home start-up loan fund, the group must repay the loan within two years in 24 installments. If a loan is not available, groups can pool resources to come up with the first month’s rent on a house and security deposit or find a local source such as a church, foundation, business, or treatment provider for a start-up loan. Historically, all kinds of funding sources have help to start new Oxford Houses. The first Oxford House was started because a member of AA loaned the men $750 for the first month’s rent. Repayment of the first loans in an area makes loans to start future houses possible. A good reputation builds confidence.

Question: Can an Oxford House be started without a loan from the State?

Answer: Yes, the prospective residents of the house can find a suitable house, rent it, put up the security deposit and pay the first month's rent themselves. Oxford House, Inc. will consider favorably a charter application whether or not a loan is received from the State or some other outside source.

Question: Can both men and women live in the same Oxford House?

Answer: No. Experience has shown that Oxford Houses work for both men and women, but not in the same house.

Question: What is the "ideal" number of individuals to assure a well-run self-run, self-supported recovery house?

Answer: Experience has shown that 8-15 members work very well. Oxford House will not charter a house with fewer than six individuals because experience has shown that it takes at least six individuals to form an effective group.

Question: How much sobriety or clean time is needed before an individual can be accepted into an Oxford House?

Answer: There is no specific amount of sobriety needed. Generally an individual comes into an Oxford House following a 28-day rehabilitation program or at least 10-day detoxification program.

Question: What is the success rate for Oxford House residents?

Answer: The success rate (staying clean and sober and functioning well) is very high. The National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse have both funded considerable research on Oxford House’s rate of success. More than 125 peer reviewed academic journal articles and four books have been published. In one study (NIDA Grant # 13231) that followed 897 residents in 219 Oxford Houses across the country for 27 months, the DePaul University research found that only 13 percent relapsed. In another study (NIAAA Grant AA12218) 150 individuals getting out of primary treatment were divided into two groups of 75 each with one group going to Oxford Houses and the other group going to normal living situations were followed for two years after treatment found that the Oxford House group did substantially better in staying clean and sober – 66% v. 33%. [American Journal of Public Health, Oct 2006; Vol. 96, pp1727–1729]

Question: Do studies show that many Oxford House residents have co-occurring mental illness?

Answer: Yes. A longitudinal study tested 897 Oxford House residents [604 men/293 women] using Addiction Severity Index and calculated the Psychiatric Severity Index [PSI] to identify residents with moderate or severe co-occurring disorders. The results showed that both those with severe and moderate PSI indications did well in staying clean and sober, avoiding hospitalization and functioning well over time. It also showed that about half of the sample tested positive on PSI with half of those having severe co-occurring disorders. [American Journal of Community Psychology 42 (2008) 143-153] In layman’s terms those taking medication for co-occurring disorders learned to take the right amount of medication at the right time to control the co-occurring disorder and to also become comfortable enough in sobriety to avoid relapse.

Question: Are there Oxford Houses set up for special populations?

Answer: There are some Oxford Houses for special populations. For example, around 60 Oxford Houses for women accept women with children. There are also houses that accept only recovering individuals who are gay or lesbian. There are also houses that accept only deaf individuals. There are houses dedicated to Native Americans. While there have been no comparative studies, those integrated into ordinary houses appear to do better than those in specialty houses. A recent article in the “Chicago Tribune” featured several Latino houses in Chicago. The Oxford House Manual and related forms have been translated into Spanish. Currently there are research studies on whether Latino houses will provide equal or better outcomes than integration of Latinos into ordinary Oxford Houses.

Question: Do Oxford Houses serve veterans?

Answer: Yes. At any given time there are about 2,000 residents who have served in the military. During the course of a year more than 4,000 veterans will live in an Oxford House. Some houses are all veterans but primarily veterans are integrated into the normal population.

Question: How many individuals lived in an Oxford House during 2010?

Answer: Approximately 24,000 individuals lived in an Oxford House for some or part of the year. Of that number 4,332 relapsed (19%) and were expelled. 7,668 moved out clean and sober.

Question: How many times has the average Oxford House resident previously been through residential treatment?

Answer: The average number of times is three but for about a quarter of residents their residency is after their first treatment episode.

Question: How many residents have served jail time?

Answer: Seventy-eight percent have served jail time. The average length of jail time is about one year with a range of few days to more than 10 years. This is understandable since as many as 80 percent of the current jail and prison population is alcoholics and drug addicts. Oxford Houses seem to stop the recycling in and out of jail or treatment facilities.

Question: What is needed to expand the number of Oxford Houses?

Answer: There are two expenditures required for developing statewide networks of Oxford Houses: [1] a small start-up revolving loan fund, and [2] on-site technical assistance to teach residents the Oxford House system of operations. States can use some of their Federal block grant funding to establish recovery home revolving loan funds but such funds must follow the requirements of 42 USC 300x-25 – the amended recovery home provision of the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act. [42 USC 300x-25 can be download from the Oxford House website under “About Us/History”]. Block grant or other State funding can be used to contract with Oxford House, Inc. to provide trained and supervised outreach workers to find suitable houses to rent, recruit suitable residents and to teach those residents the system of operations. Each of the outreach workers cost Oxford House, Inc. about $80,000 a year (average salary $35,000, health insurance about $7,000, FICA $2,700 and $35,000 expenses – car, phone, supplies, lodging). The outreach worker also helps keep existing houses on track by organizing chapters, workshops and State associations. For example, six outreach workers keep 229 Oxford Houses in Washington State on track and develop an additional 20 new houses each year.

Question: Has Oxford House become worldwide?

Answer: Yes, there are Oxford Houses in Canada, Australia and Ghana with active interest in England, Bulgaria and other countries. Alcoholism and drug addiction are international problems and Oxford Houses can provide recovering individuals the opportunity to become comfortable enough in sobriety to avoid relapse.

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