BILLINGS - In the upcoming year, a bill will be reviewed by the Montana Legislature that would regulate sober living homes in the state and would have a big impact in Billings.
There are 37 sober living homes in Billings, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of all such homes in the entire state. Recently, these homes were thrust into the spotlight when a fire destroyed one owned by Sober Beginnings on the city's west end leaving all 13 of the residents homeless.
Kacy Keith is one of the managers of Sober Beginnings. She said they have found most of the residents a new home, but that it is difficult to return to what's left of the building.
“Everything down to the foundation will have to be torn down to be rebuilt, and we’re not for sure yet what we’re going to do,” Keith said. “We are a residential house that gets people together in a family unit to help support each other. They’re accountable to each other, they’re accountable to us."
It's circumstances like this house fire, and the sudden increase of sober homes in Billings, that has led legislators in the state to draft a bill to help regulate the current system. Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito is a part of the committee that put it together.
“This bill attempts to correct all of those gaps in oversight and regulation," Twito said. "What we saw back in 2019 was an explosion of them, specifically in Billings."
The bill is being carried by Sen. Barry Usher, a Republican from Billings. Twito said the bill is designed to make sure that these homes are run for the right reasons.
“If you read the bill, it’s not terribly intrusive," Twito said. "The council, and hopefully the legislature when they work through this bill realize that these places are needed but they need to be run correctly."
For some home managers like Keith, they are apprehensive that regulation will take away the effectiveness of their organization.
“It just seems like whenever government gets involved in some of these things that are working so well, you know, is it going to help them or is it going to hurt?" Keith said.
But Twito is adamant that the bill won't take the service away but will only improve the current system in place.
“There are portions of the bill that protect these folks, because we want these places to be habitable so that they have a place to live,” Twito said.
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