WKYT Investigates | Group home regulations

Published: Feb. 2, 2020 at 8:33 PM EST
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Things change as cities grow. Georgetown is just one place going through it, with changes in population, traffic and development.

But with any change often comes the unknown. That is the concern some city leaders and others now have after the repeal of one regulation in particular.

"We kind of had it under control and things were good, and now we just said, 'We've got nothing. Do whatever you please, come wherever you want to please, go wherever you want to go,'" said Karen Tingle-Sames, current

and former mayor. "So we just really opened it up."

Tingle-Sames and some others in the community tell WKYT Investigates that they are worried about traffic, safety, noise, parking and other potential problems that could come from having a cluster of group homes in one neighborhood.

Group homes are commonly used for people with health needs or disabilities, or for people in recovery.

Last week the city of Georgetown

. The city's previous ordinance limited how close group homes could be to one another - preventing them from being within 1,000 feet of each other - but the city attorney warned that the ordinance would not hold up in court if it were challenged.

"It's turned out that the unintended consequences have been unacceptable and we think it may be unconstitutional," Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather said during the city council's

, during which the ordinance repealing the group homes restrictions had its first reading.

The fact is, there is not much that cities can actually do to regulate group homes even if they want to do so.


against people with a "handicapping condition." According to the

that also includes, under the

, recovering addicts. (While recovering drug addicts are protected under the ADA, those who are


Group homes might be more common than you think. You may even have one in your neighborhood.

Just one organization -

, self-run and self-supported group homes for people in addiction recovery - has nearly six dozen locations across Kentucky. (And that number, officials say, is constantly changing - their

does not yet reflect the latest openings.)

"It's constantly growing, the need - sometimes you feel like you can't open up enough houses with enough beds," said Jenifer Ward, the Oxford House outreach coordinator for Lexington and Georgetown. "Calls everyday from people wanting a bed, needing a bed, needing a safe place to go, some place they can try to change their life."

Ward knows all too well of that need. She is not just a staff member, but she also has lived in an Oxford House since 2018. She is 15 months sober, she told WKYT's Garrett Wymer.

Those living in an Oxford House generally come in following a 28-day rehab program, or at least a five- to 10-day detox program,

. Current drug users are not allowed to stay in an Oxford House. They are encouraged to go back to detox or rehab, Ward said.

She said Oxford House - and other similar group homes - play a big role in helping people in recovery by providing a transition from the controlled environments of rehabilitation programs to the complete freedom of living elsewhere.

"We just want to help people who need the help and want the help," Ward said. "We just want to help them change their life, give them a life back, give them their families back."

Ward says living in an Oxford House has helped her learn how to make good decisions again, as everyone in the house is accountable to each other.

Critics of the lack of regulation of group homes said they are not against the homes themselves, but they do not like the stress it could add on a neighborhood to have several homes nearby with maybe eight or nine people per house.

Tingle-Sames said that was the case in one Georgetown neighborhood before the original ordinance was passed roughly a decade ago. The ordinance to repeal that regulation had its second reading and final vote during the council's


"We're putting our group homes above our residents that are our taxpayers and our next-door neighbors," she said. "And that's a problem for me."

Either way, communities like this one - and other communities, as well, as the demand for group homes grows - are dealing yet again with change, just as those inside the group home are, too.

"Once they get to see that we're not there to cause trouble, we're just there to live life," Ward said, "they learn that we're not there to harm anybody, we're just there to better ourselves."