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National Study to Identify Gaps in Recovery Housing

September 24, 2020

A new initiative has been launched to identify gaps in our field’s collective understanding of recovery housing. The National Study of Treatment and Addiction Recovery Residences (NSTARR) aims to answer several key questions that have prevented recovery housing from being widely recognized as a vital healthcare resource:

  • How many recovery residences are there, and how available are they across communities?
  • Who does the existing recovery residence capacity serve, and who is underserved in what communities?
  • What spectrum of services does the existing recovery residence capacity provide and how does that vary from community to community?

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, this study will provide a view of all types of recovery residences across all 50 states. “Every recovery home counts in the lives of the residents they serve, and so we want to count every recovery home and include the unique aspects of their approach,” says Amy Mericle, PhD, principal investigator of NSTARR and a research scientist at the Alcohol Research Group, a program of the Public Health Institute.

While treatment professionals and the recovery community have long witnessed the ability of recovery housing to support individuals initiating and sustaining recovery from substance use issues, recovery housing remains largely unknown in the healthcare system, and thus unvalued or undervalued. Individuals “in the know” typically draw upon local examples or personal experience and without the benefit of a national perspective. How could they? Until NSTARR, there has not been a mechanism for capturing a complete picture of the national recovery housing landscape.

A growing body of research supports the effectiveness of recovery housing, but without a coast-to-coast survey, the literature will remain fragmented and focused on certain types of recovery housing or in specific geographic regions. Not only will NSTARR help researchers and referral agents better understand the landscape, it will also help recovery housing providers understand how to best meet the needs of those in recovery and how they compare to their peers. Currently, decisions around where to open a new home, what gender to serve, and how much to charge are made with more instinct than information. Providers are typically blind to key data points that determine sustainability. NSTARR will greatly inform new growth in the recovery housing landscape.

NSTARR’s national map of recovery residences is particularly novel and exciting. We are very aware of the stigma and not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) discrimination that recovery residents can face, so our maps will be published at the state and zip code level. No addresses, no cross-streets, and no names will be published. This protects the privacy of residents while revealing geographical gaps, proximity to resources, and fair housing barriers.

Progress update

After 12 months of work, we have a database of 9,567 recovery residences representing all 50 states and Washington, D.C. For residences where we have a zip code (approximately 80% of the residences in the database), we have begun to make maps showing different features of the recovery housing landscape. As the map below illustrates, recovery housing is not evenly distributed across the country. Recovery housing appears limited in a number of states, such as Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

NSTARR mapThis map also depicts the completeness of the data we have collected from each state based on the number of residences in the state and how many we are able to map. Thus far, we have been able to map at least 75% of the recovery residences in most states. However, for some states, half or more of the residences are missing the information needed to map them. This could be problematic in terms of describing the recovery housing landscape in states like Arizona, California, Georgia, Minnesota and Missouri, where there are more recovery residences than we have been able to map. NSTARR wants to make sure all recovery residences are adequately represented.

Next steps

We are still in the process of refining our database. If you are unsure whether your recovery home or the recovery residences in your community are represented, please contact us through the NSTARR website so we can make sure all recovery residences are included. Once the database is complete, recovery residences will be randomly sampled to participate in a national survey about their residents, policies, practices and more. We look forward to publishing our findings. To learn more, visit nstarr.arg.org/

Jason Howell, MBA; Lee Kaskutas, PhD; Deidre Patterson, MPH; Laya Cooperman, MPH; Meenakshi Subbaraman, PhD; Kate Karriker-Jaffe, PhD; and Amy Mericle, PhD, are project staff members for NSTARR.

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