At Chicago sober home, help with recovery comes with rules

On a recent morning, Henry McGhee checked in on the residents of one of the four sober homes he owns in Chicago. He's been in business 15 years and estimates he's provided housing for more than 8,000 people, many of them black men who completed prison terms for drug crimes.

The Associated Press toured one of McGhee's homes — a small apartment building in a tidy working-class neighborhood — to get a look at a growing segment of an industry responding to strong demand for addiction treatment.

McGhee "is among the most passionate people on the planet," said Theodora Binion, retired director of Illinois' Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, who gave him his start by approving state funding for two beds in his first home for addicts who need housing after drug treatment. She's seen him learn how to run a business.

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McGhee's own addiction to cocaine cost him a career in law enforcement when he resigned from the Illinois State Police to seek treatment. He lived in a recovery residence himself before opening his own.

Now he evicts residents who don't follow his rules. Each man must either hold a job or seek work daily. Each must buy $60 in groceries weekly and submit a receipt to the house manager. Monthly rent is $425, although the state of Illinois pays for many residents. Attendance is mandatory at five weekly Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings. No drugs or alcohol are tolerated.

"If you drink a beer, you can't stay here," McGhee said. "The name says it all: Henry's Sober Living House and we mean that."

McGhee has seen poorly run sober homes "turn into flophouses. They will let a guy get high. ... My house is not 100 percent full, and the reason it's not 100 percent full is because we put people out. If I wanted just money, I'd let you stay here and get high, and I'd get paid. But we don't do that.

"If you get high, you're not going to stay here."