Michael Morgester says he got sober in 1994 and credits his nine years in nine different Oxford House group homes in Portland as key to his recovery.
Now program manager for the rehab group Oregon Recovery Homes, Morgester is among several recovering addicts pushing a bill that critics say would strip people who were in Morgester's position 13 years ago of their rights.
The measure drafted by the Oregon Department of Human Services, Senate Bill 154, would exempt group homes like Oxford House, a national nonprofit with about 60 member homes in the Portland area and 150 statewide, from a requirement that a 30-day notice be given for most evictions.
Last June, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in Burke v. Oxford House that group homes like Oxford must comply with the law when asking a member of the group to leave.
Morgester, now 40, says it's important
that homes like Oxford House be able to immediately expel any member who uses alcohol or drugs.
"It's an agreement that every member enters into when they are voted into a Oxford House, and they understand it up front," Morgester says. "Just by knowing that...kept me from picking up and using that day."
The dispute affects an estimated 7,700 people in the Portland area and 25,600 statewide living in peer-run group homes like Oxford House, or in residential treatment and assisted living facilities for folks with mental illness or physical disabilities.
State Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), chair of the Senate Health Policy and Public Affairs Committee, says she understands the need to get rid of somebody who has relapsed. But Monnes Anderson, a public health nurse, says she's concerned that the proposed change could end up hurting the vulnerable population it's designed to protect.
She's not alone. Advocacy groups for tenants and low-income people are working with the state and Oxford House to draft new language. State officials say they're agreeable to a compromise.
"Folks who are evicted from Oxford Houses are evicted almost inevitably into homelessness," says Ian Slingerland, executive director of Community Alliance of Tenants. "We'd like to see some measures put in place, because the stakes are so high, to ensure that when people are removed from houses, it's for a good reason."