If any group of unfortunates would seem to need outside, professional assistance, it would be substance abusers. Yet the Oxford-House movement has produced an amazing story of self-help. In over 1,600 homes in 45 U.S. states, plus a few foreign countries, groups of recovering substance abusers support each other in sobriety.
The first house was established in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1975 by a recovering alcoholic. The halfway house in which that man was living was about to close for financial reasons, so he and the other residents took over the lease and chose a group name to honor the Oxford Group, a religious organization that influenced the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Oxford-House movement teaches three primary rules: do not use drugs or alcohol or be disruptive, run the house democratically, and pay your share of rent, utilities, and other expenses. Weekly business meetings are held so every resident knows the house’s financial status, and officers (treasurer, chore coordinator) are elected on a rotating basis. Residents are encouraged to attend A.A. or N.A. meetings.
No one is ever forced to leave an Oxford House unless a majority of his peers vote to dismiss him for violating the rules. Those who leave in good standing are encouraged to become associate members and offer friendship to new members. Each house is to be self-supporting, though financially secure houses may, with the central office’s approval, provide new or needy houses with a loan for up to one year. In 1988, Congress encouraged states to set up a revolving fund to grant loans for a new house’s first-month rent and security deposit, to be repaid within two years, with those proceeds used to start additional houses. These funds have allowed dramatic expansion of Oxford Houses.
Researchers from DePaul University who have studied the movement over many years find the average stay is about 175 days, and recovery rates without relapse are over 80 percent. In 1989, Oxford World Services was established to help experienced residents teach others how to open and maintain houses.
- History, oxfordhouse.org/userfiles/file/oxford_house_history.php
- Leonard Jason, Bradley Olson, Karen Foli, Rescued Lives: The Oxford House Approach to Substance Abuse (Routledge, 2008)