Ex-clients offer peek inside Dallas halfway house

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by BYRON HARRIS

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WFAA-TV

Posted on April 21, 2010 at 12:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 21 at 12:55 AM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — For years, homeowners near Hillcrest High School in North Dallas have complained about halfway houses for recovering substance abusers in their neighborhood.

They say the residents are rowdy and a source of vandalism.

The homes are part of Life Force Dallas, a for-profit business that charges recovering substance abusers from all over the country a fee to stay there.

The owner portrays Life Force as a quiet business that fosters "sober living" and has no impact on the community.

But two former residents who did not wish to reveal their identities for this report reveal an entirely different picture.

They paid between $800 and $2,500 a month to live in the halfway houses, and both allege that income — not sobriety — was the core value of Life Force Dallas. "It was all about the money," one ex-resident said.

"If you paid your rent, you could relapse as many times as you wanted," another former client told News 8.

Don Fielding, who runs Life Force and operates three halfway houses, downplays the danger of relapse.

"I know people are concerned that there are alcoholics and addicts and that the perception that they'd be dangerous," he said. "Most of the time this is a medical disease, like diabetes or heart disease or asthma."

But former residents said their housemates relapsed into cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin use.

"We had a Sunday meeting that I went to one time, and there was a guy nodding off from heroin," an ex-client said.

"There's a lot of things that happen that are dangerous. Drug dealers come in the neighborhood," the other former resident said.

The former residents say relapsing Life Force clients would walk up the street to a stop sign and meet their drug dealer.

Franklin Middle School is directly across the street.

"There was one house manager per house. There was no supervision — constantly lax," one of the former residents said.

The ex-clients describe one weekend where nine people in the house relapsed — including the house manager.

"And the person left in charge gave his car to the dealer for crack, and his cell phone for crack," a former resident said. "I mean, that's what addiction is."

"Have we had complaints? Yes," Fielding conceded. "I'll go ahead and admit we've had complaints."

Neighbors complain of vandalism, and one of the former residents who spoke to News 8 said that's a valid concern.

"I remember destruction of property — just petty vandalism things around the neighborhood," he said.

Another concern: Too many residents.

City zoning laws limit occupancy to eight. The two ex-clients said sometimes as many as a dozen people lived in one house.

What happened when a city inspector came around? "Certain rooms of the house would have the beds removed and chairs would be put in their place and make it look like it's a study instead of a bedroom," one ex-resident said.

Since Fielding has three properties in the neighborhood, former clients said he could move residents to other houses to pass city inspections.

One of the ex-residents was asked what he would think if he were a neighbor of Life Force Dallas. "This place is out of control, and we don't want them to be our neighbors."

In response to written questions, Don Fielding said he doesn't believe his clients have ever committed vandalism in the neighborhood.

He declined to reveal what percentage of his clients have criminal records, and said relapse rates are confidential.

Fielding denies that he moves his clients from one house to another to avoid detection.

The neighbors, however, are firm: They want a change in zoning rules.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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