The unregulated world of Montana’s sober living homes

Kaitlyn, age 32, used for an area at Hope Center Ministries near completion of 2021 due to the fact that it appeared like her finest choice at the time. She had actually pleaded guilty in February to one count of criminal endangerment associated to negligent driving and, after being launched, broke her probation by apparently stopping working to appear for check-ins and having drug stuff. Court records state she had actually informed her probation officer she had actually been utilizing methamphetamine, even as she rejected having an issuewith drugs or alcohol The ladies’s sober living house in Clancy, her lawyer encouraged, would help her go out of prison and offer her a structured environment to recuperate fromsubstance use

” I didn’t truly understand a lot about it,” Kaitlyn stated in a December interview. “He simply informed me that it was a treatment center and that I might take advantage of it.”

Montana Free Press concurred to refer to Kaitlyn by a pseudonym to safeguard her personal privacy.

The home in Clancy is one of 2 Hope Center Ministries locations in Montana, consisting of a males’s program in Butte, and 36 across the country. Though it’s referred to as a “drug addiction treatment center” on its Facebook page, the national admissions planner who affirmed at Kaitlyn’s November 2021 hearing in Stone explained it as a “long-lasting faith-based drug and alcohol recovery program.” On its national site, Hope Center Ministries states its function is to “lead addicts and their households to end up being totally dedicated fans of Christ.”

According to a court records of the hearing, Kaitlyn’s public defense lawyer informed District Court Judge Luke Berger that Hope Center Ministries’ 34-bed ladies’s house would provide her with some recovery assistance and help her preserve compliance with the terms of her probation.

The district attorney on Kaitlyn’s case, Jefferson County Lawyer Andrew Paul, argued for a various path, informing the judge he believed Kaitlyn requiredclinical addiction treatment He asked Hope Center’s then-admissions planner, Ashley Drake, what kind of medical professionals the company had on staff at your house where Kaitlyn would be going. None, Drake responded. However she stated the program would carry homeowners off-site for any needed mental health care requires, medication or medical diagnoses.

” However you would concur with me that medical staff would be suitable for someone who is chemically addicted to compounds, would not you?” Paul asked.

” Well, that would truly rely on which recovery approach that you pick,” Drake addressed.


Hope Center Ministries, which opened its Clancy house in 2020, is one example amongst lots of of unlicensed and unregulated sober living homes presently running in Montana. The programs can use real estate and assistance to people coming out of prison, jail, or clinical treatment, however there is no state oversight of the services theyprovide Like many states, Montana does not need sober living centers to be accredited by the state in order to run. Unless they provide clinical services that warrant licensure as a residential treatment facility, sober living homes in Montana are likewise not needed to utilize certified addiction therapists, social employees, or psychologists.

In the lack of trustworthy state oversight, market groups have actually formed to set the bar for ethical requirements. At a May discussion to Montana legislators and police authorities, National Alliance of Recovery Houses Executive Director Dave Sheridan stated such homes are typically developed to stand out from clinical inpatient treatment and can consist of various kinds of recovery programming and home governance. The company’s accreditation requirements, he stated, focus on whether recovery homes run with “stability.”

” They promote homeowners’ rights. They are developing a culture of empowerment,” Sheridan stated. “We’re likewise working to make sure that homes hold true home-like environments, that they’re not institutional and custodial, and that they provide recovery assistance.”

Montana addiction recovery specialists have actually invested the in 2015 establishing a NARR affiliate to accredit such homes, an effort that program staff state will gain ground over the next year. However the state’s recovery market has actually long run without state policy or independent accreditation, developing a constellation of providers with diverse requirements. Without oversight, reform supporters state, sober living homes in Montana and across the country can be risky, punitive, and economically exploitative for a susceptible group frequently enmeshed in the criminaljustice system

The absence of policy has actually likewise produced a dirty landscape for judges, district attorneys and defense lawyer weighing clinical treatment for substance use disorders and non-clinical recovery programs With caseloads complete of people charged with drug- associated offenses, police entities are frequently under pressure to discover community positionings and treatment centers prepared to take accuseds.

” Any options are an excellent choice when your just other choice is prison,” stated Claire Lettow, handling lawyer for the Workplace of Public Protector area that consists of Waterfall County. Lettow stated she and other lawyers in her workplace have actually had customers use for beds at the Hope Center homes in Clancy and Butte in part due to the fact that of the scarcity of inpatient treatment in their jurisdiction.

” There’s a handful of outpatient treatment providers here, however there is an absence of sober living and there is absolutely no inpatient treatment,” she stated.

Throughout Kaitlyn’s hearing, Hope Center Ministries’ admissions planner, Drake, discussed that the year-long program consists of 24-hour guidance, Bible research study and a compulsory “professional training program” in which homeowners work at regional task websites that hold staffing agreements with the ministry. Ultimately, she stated, homeowners get more advantages around the house to help them prepare to shift back into thecommunity Drake stated the earnings homeowners create through their work positioning assists pay for the cost of their stay in the house, and likewise functions as a primary source of profits for the program.

Credit: Photo-illustration by Melissa McFarlin/ MTFP

Sam Martin, Kaitlyn’s lawyer, informed Judge Berger that launching Kaitlyn to the Clancy house would help keep her in compliance with the terms of her probation and offer her the benefits of a helpful environment.

” Their program focuses on offering not just recovery elements for addiction, however likewise life supports and basic improvement of somebody, if you will,” Martin stated, including that the program would help Kaitlyn “go out of the cycle that she is presently in.”

Paul, the county lawyer, disagreed.

” Judge, to call this treatment is rather a stretch given that they do not have any sort of medical workers that are readily available to help someone with their chemicaladdictions It’s essentially a kumbaya. ‘We’ll take care of you for cash.’ Which’s all it is,” Paul stated. “It is merely a location where Hope Ministries is generating income.”

Berger ultimately sided with Martin and concurred to refer Kaitlyn to the Clancy program as a condition of her ongoing probation. He worried that he did not have the power to mandate her presence at Bible research study or to total any spiritual service, however verified that she was concurring to comply with the guidelines of the program to which she had actually used.

As part of a longer description for his choice, Berger informed Kaitlyn and the courtroom that he can’t understand what type of addiction program may work for everyone who appears prior to him.

” I dislike to state it by doing this, however you’re going to show one of us incorrect,” the judge informed Kaitlyn. “If this is what works for you, then this works for you.”


When she appeared on the program’s doorstep, Kaitlyn informed MTFP, she believed the house was gorgeous, with panoramas of the surrounding mountains. Quickly she was following the exact same stringent guidelines and regimens as other homeowners, doing home tasks, studying the Bible and finishing associated research projects. One activity needed homeowners to use bible to their life experience and compose a prayer. Kaitlyn stated that morning practice was her preferred activity.

” It assisted me every day,” Kaitlyn stated in a December interview. “It constructed my character. It provided me more self-confidence than I ever had in the past.”

Throughout her time at Hope Center Ministries, she stated, she never ever worked with a certifiedprovider on an addiction recovery treatment plan While the program let homeowners schedule “therapy” sessions with volunteers who went to your house, Kaitlyn stated the people assisting in those sessions weren’t accredited professionals.

” I do not understand how they’re open if they do not have any certified people,” she stated. “They were simply people who had actually checked out the Bible,” Kaitlyn stated.

The director of Hope Center Ministries’ Clancy house, Carolyn Belling, decreased MTFP’s demands for an interview about the program and did not react to an emailed list of questions about the experiences shared by Kaitlyn and other homeowners. Several calls and e-mails to the national company were not returned.

After about 6 weeks at the house, Kaitlyn started working approximately 40 hours a week at one of Hope Center Ministries’ contracted professional training task websites, a burrito dining establishment on the Carroll College school in Helena run by Sodexo, a national food service business. Sodexo did not react to MTFP’s questions about its work arrangement with the ministry.

Kaitlyn and 2 other previous homeowners who worked at various Helena services informed MTFP they did not receive incomes from their task positionings and weren’t arranged to receive payment up until the last 8 weeks of the program– a stage, Drake had actually affirmed, throughout which homeowners find out financial duty and business can “in fact include them on” as staff members.

” You weren’t paid,” Kaitlyn stated of the ministry’s professional trainingprogram “It got sent out to the Hope Center.”

2 other previous homeowners who spoke with MTFP stated they invested their professional training at Taco Bell locations in Helena, where they worked 40 hours each week. Joseph Sample, the owner-operator of Taco Bell locations in Helena and Butte, validated business’ relationship with Hope Center Ministries to MTFP, stating they have actually utilized 14 individuals from the vocational program over the last 18 months. Numerous, Sample stated, have actually remained on as staff members after leaving the Hope Center homes, and one is “on track” for a management position.

” We are happy to deal an chance for people in our community to have a 2nd possibility,” Sample stated. Neither Sample nor a national Taco Bell representative reacted to extra questions about the business’s agreements with Hope Center Ministries.

Hope Center’s professional training program serves 2 primary functions, according to the company’s national site. It’s suggested to help homeowners reinforce their work principles throughout recovery while offering “extra earnings for the ministry.” In federal tax filings from 2019, the in 2015 for which the Irs has a total filing openly readily available, Hope Center Ministries reported that “work therapy” accounted for more than $3.3 million of the company’s almost $6 million in overall earnings that year.

The ministry likewise accepts contributions, grants and presents to support its objective, a classification that amounted to about $1.7 million in 2019 profits. Considering that the group opened its 2 Montana locations in 2020, one of its funders has actually been the Gianforte Family Structure, the humanitarian trust of Republican Politician Gov. Greg Gianforte, First Woman Susan Gianforte, and their 4 kids. The structure talented Hope Center Ministries a cumulative $70,000 in between 2020 and 2021, according to the trust’s current not-for-profit tax files.

Nationwide, hundreds of drug and alcohol rehab programs need homeowners to work without pay, either for the program itself or at contracted services, according to a 2020 examination by the news outlet Reveal At some prominent sober living homes in other states, homeowners receive complimentary clinical treatment, real estate and food, however not financial earnings for their labor. Critics state that organization design is fairly laden for people with substance use disorders, and a possible infraction of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

“The long and the brief exists’s no exception in the Fair Labor Standards Act … that would cover this situation,” stated D. Michael Hancock, counsel at the national Cohen Milstein law office and a previous assistant administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Department. “If someone works at Taco Bell, they’re entitled to be paid for their labor, duration. I’m uninformed of any Taco Bell exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

” You have a desperate population who frantically requirehelp Therefore they want to enter into these programs, even if it indicates that they’re going to be made use of.”

Lawyer D. Michael Hancock

Hancock is amongst the lawyers prosecuting a series of cases versus the Redemption Army on behalf of previous homeowners of the company’s adult rehab programs, declaring the charity stopped working to reward homeowners as staff members however needed them to labor without adequate pay. A comparable claim, accredited as a class action this year, is continuing versus the Texas-based Cenikor Structure for supposedly filching millions of dollars in earnings made by homeowners of its drug and alcohol rehabprograms

In addition to contrasting with federal law, Hancock stated, the work-without-pay design capitalizes of people with couple of other options, lots of of whom do not have steady real estate and an earnings to manage continual treatment.

” You have a desperate population who frantically requirehelp Therefore they want to enter into these programs, even if it indicates that they’re going to be made use of,” Hancock stated.


Kaitlyn likewise stated Hope Center staff asked her to sign up for BREEZE, the general public food assistance program, while she was at the home. 2 other previous homeowners stated the exact same experience, stating that, after their applications were authorized, they turned their benefits cards over to Hope Center staff for acquiring family groceries. Food in your house was carefully kept track of, the previous individuals stated, and the refrigerator and cabinets locked outside of designated meal times.

Jessie, a previous citizen who likewise asked MTFP to refer to her with a pseudonym to safeguard her personal privacy, stated home staff did not return her food assistance card when she finished theprogram

” They weren’t going to offer it to me when I left,” Jessie stated in a December interview. “They weren’t going to physically offer me my card. They stated that they would get rid of it. And I simply didn’t trust that.”

After leaving the house, Jessie stated, she called the state health department to report her advantage card lost or taken, ultimately informing a department staff member that the facility was attempting to keep it.

MTFP might not verify whether the state Department of Public Health and Human Providers or the U.S. Department of Farming, which supervise the food assistance program, have actually ever examined House Center Ministries’ use of BREEZE benefits based on Jessie’s problem or any other reports. Health department representative Jon Ebelt stated not-for-profit group homes that are smaller sized than 16 beds can use to use BREEZE benefits based on the eligibility of their homeowners, however that such centers would get their own group house card. Ebelt would not verify whether Hope Center Ministries was an authorized group house for BREEZE use, stating “that information is personal” based on federal policy and state laws governing the administration of publicbenefits

Saima Akhtar, a senior lawyer at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, stated that while federal policies can enable for some gather settings to use BREEZE benefits for homeowners, the benefits technically belong to the individual, not the facility.

” That is the language of the federal policy. That is the federal requirement,” Akhtar stated. If a resident leaves the program, she continued, their benefits must move with them. “The benefits do not belong to the firm. The benefits must take a trip with the citizen,” she stated.

While the state health department does release findings on individual reports of BREEZE abuse and scams, the names of the celebrations are redacted and do not suggest whether Hope Center Ministries has actually ever been the topic of an examination. In December, MTFP submitted a Flexibility of Information Act request looking for any paperwork associated to examinations of Hope Center Ministries by the U.S. Department of Farming, however did not receive an action prior to publication.


Reports of dishonest organization practices are not unusual in the recovery market, consisting of work without pay, economically determined patient recommendations, and profiteering from unjustified drug screening. Without oversight, the occurrence of exploitative and dishonest conduct in Montana has actually been difficult to measure. However regional authorities and state legislators have actually just recently started pressing for more regulative systems to keep up with the market.

In March, the Billings city lawyer’s workplace provided to legislators and police authorities on the state Wrongdoer Justice Oversight Committee about the very little information and anecdotal reports it had actually accumulated about roughly 35 sober living homes within Billings city limitations. The effort to gather information started, assistant city lawyer Karen Tracy stated, in reaction to grievances lodged with the Billings City Board about uncontrolled sober living house operators. Tracy informed lawmakers and police stakeholders on the committee that the city lawyer’s workplace had actually gotten reports of low quality real estate conditions, homeowners having their belongings held as security if they did not pay lease, and an “incredibly constant style” of expulsions for small offenses.

” We have a really susceptible population of homeowners who might not feel comfy getting in touch with police, who might not have the elegance of availing themselves of the landlord-tenant courts,” Tracy stated. “So we have actually got an problem here where we’re positioning people into these homes or they are getting in these homes willingly and they’re being capitalized of by your dubious or sketchier operators.”

After months of research study, the committee prepared a brand-new proposition for legislators to think about throughout the 2023 Legislature that would bring a degree of oversight to the sober living market, consisting of a brand-new requirement that addiction recovery homes sign up with the statehealth department If embraced, the expense would likewise clearly bar recovery homes from making incorrect or deceptive declarations about their services under risk of prosecution for breaching the Montana Customer Security Act.

” We have a really susceptible population of homeowners who might not feel comfy getting in touch with police, who might not have the elegance of availing themselves of the landlord-tenant courts.”

Billings assistant city lawyer Karen Tracy

In the coming months, more recovery house operators will likewise be able to willingly seek accreditation from the Recovery Residences Alliance of Montana (RRAM), the state affiliate produced in 2021 that can recognize homes based on national finest practices. As of December, RRAM had actually accredited 3 companies running 10 homes in Billings, Missoula and Ronan.

Hope Center Ministries’ Clancy Director Belling did not react to questions about whether the home plans to use for accreditation through RRAM. If it does, its operations will be determined versus the most current market requirements, which stress regard for homeowners’ rights and prioritizing their security, health and wellness.

Nancy Marcus Newman, a Pennsylvania-based civil liberties lawyer who has actually represented recovery homes and lectured on dishonest practices in the market, stated it’s tough to see how a work therapy program utilizing homeowners’ incomes as profits would line up with best-practice requirements for sober living homes.

” It’s a democratic, self-help recovery environment where homeowners are seeking their self-reliance and knowing about taking duty for themselves. And I believe that getting a task and getting an income and discovering how to be economically independent is one of the objectives,” Newman stated. “I do not see where taking that cash from someone is in any method contributing to their recovery.”


Whatever recovery market reforms Montana might advance in the coming months, numerous homeowners have actually currently cycled through sober living homes running with no requirements for quality control, finest practices or effectiveness. While some homeowners might have left programs with months of sobriety and a vision for their future, others got much less.

Credit: Photo-illustration by Melissa McFarlin/ MTFP

Kaitlyn was released from Hope Center Ministries in the spring of 2022 after being fired from her task at Sodexo and implicated of breaching the home’s guidelines. She informed MTFP she felt messed up and unsupported by the program, in spite of her effortsto graduate One night, she stated, Belling, the program director, drove her far from the home, purchased her a phone from Walmart, and dropped her off at God’s Love, a downtown Helena shelter. Kaitlyn stated there was no invite to return.

” It felt truly shitty, truthfully,” Kaitlyn stated. “She simply stated ‘best of luck.'”

In the months after, court records reveal that Kaitlyn stopped working out of another positioning at the YWCA in Helena after checking favorable for meth and returned to prison to wait up until her next hearing prior to Judge Berger. As of December, about a year after she initially got here at the Hope Center, she was waiting to be moved to Passages in Billings, a ladies’s correctional facility that providesinpatient drug and alcohol treatment If offered an chance to return to the Clancy house, Kaitlyn stated, she likely would not take it.

” I do not believe I would return, truthfully,” she stated.

This is the very first post in a two-part series about Montana’s recovery home market. The 2nd story, which focuses on the state’s developing oversight strategies for the presently unregulated homes, will be released Jan. 4, 2023.

How we reported this series:

Montana Free Press invested 2 months speaking to substance use disorder specialists and recovery home operators about Montana’s regulative landscape for sober living centers. This reporting likewise consisted of reading policy reports and listening to policy discussions about the function of recovery homes in addiction recovery and finest practices for the market. Our press reporter talked to more than a lots present and previous judges, defense lawyer, district attorneys, treatment providers and social employees about opportunities readily available to people charged with drug- or alcohol- associated criminal activities. MTFP connected to previous homeowners of the Hope Center Ministries’ house in Clancy, some of whom decreased interview demands, and spoke with 3 ladies about their experiences. Those accounts were proven by the ladies’s previous associates in the professional training program in addition to criminal court records and records. Several efforts to get remark and involvement from Hope Center Ministries’ regional and national workplaces were not successful.

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