At the Bennington House, a certified sober home in Quincy, the house rules are prominently placed on the refrigerator. Attending several AA or NA meetings a week, doing chores, taking drugs tests and meeting curfew are mandatory. While residents didn’t want to be interviewed, the managers were anxious to talk about how this kind of setting is essential to transitioning back into society and staying sober.

“You can't go from a solid program to just back on your own because it turns into chaos for you,” said Josh Silva Sheehan, operations director of the Bennington House. “Then everything's in your face. You have to slowly, gradually get into it and be prepared.”

Sheehan, a recovering addict himself, credits sober homes for his survival. He's so passionate about their effectiveness that he has made a career out of managing them, overseeing five other sober homes in Quincy. Mel Trulby, the operations manager of Bennington House, says living in a home with peer-to-peer support increases the odds of staying sober.

If they're going to do it, they've got to do it right. Don't do it because of the money.

If you're living with like-minded people who have that type of lifestyle and working on their recovery, and working on getting stable ... and you see, if I'm living with someone who I see struggle through situations during the day, there's also that support system,” Trulby said.

Sober houses are often conflated with halfway houses, but the main distinction is that sober houses do not provide treatment, as they’re often the last step for someone coming out of rehab. Another distinction – there aren't any restrictions on who can open a sober house. Tenants in both halfway houses and sober houses pay to live there.

“I don't think just anybody can open a sober house. If they're going to do it, they've got to do it right," Sheehan said. "Don't do it because of the money.” 

Sober homes are not state-regulated because they don’t provide medical treatment, but many saw the need to set some standards. So operators created the non-profit Massachusetts Alliance for Sober Housing (MASH). In partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, MASH is now the state’s authority on certifying sober homes. Executive Director Marie Graves says the response has been overwhelming. To date, they have certified 157 homes with 40 more on the waiting list.

“People are really wanting to do the right thing. They are wanting to come together as an entity and organization, share best practices to provide the most quality sober homes that we possibly can,” Graves said.

Becoming MASH-certified is voluntary, but there’s good reason to join. Under Massachusetts law, any treatment or correctional facility that receives state funding can only refer people to MASH-certified homes. Still, some argue that’s not good enough. Back in Quincy, City Councilor Brian Palmucci has proposed an ordinance that would regulate how a sober house is established.

I think what is most concerning to residents is that they go to sleep one night, they wake up the next morning and there's a sober home that's opened up next to them in a predominantly residential neighborhood with no warning, no communication, no discussion about who's going to be there, how many people, what their backgrounds are, and also, more importantly, who the operators are,” said Palmucci.

One thing the measure calls for is notifying the city 30 days in advance of opening a sober house.

You'll have an opportunity then to meet with city officials and have a plan presented as to how you plan to operate your sober home, what the qualifications are of the folks running the sober home,” he said. "Because currently, there's no way for them to tell what's a sober home that's actually focused on recovery and what’s a sober home that's focused on collecting monthly rent payments and making money."

Despite mandatory drug testing and curfews, there have been overdose deaths at sober houses in Massachusetts over the years. Silva Sheehan agrees there are a lot of sober house operators that don’t do the right thing and need to be held accountable. 

Do it because you mean it, and if you're doing it about the money, then get the proper management in there to run it properly if you don't want to run it properly," he said. "Because it's not safe, and we're talking about lives. There's a reason why that [sic] we don't have ODs or deaths – because we do it correctly.”