Since their inception in 1975, Oxford Houses have been around serving people both within the United States and now in Canada and Australia with the communal desire to stay sober. These houses provide their residents, also called members, an opportunity to live independently while sharing a home with like-minded people who have similar goals in their recovery journey.
Oxford Houses are different from other types of facilities in that they do not follow traditional treatment center rules, and they are unlike halfway houses which can be court-ordered or similar arrangements. Oxford Houses are not affiliated with any treatment facilities, but instead, provide clean and sober living environments for you to focus on independent living and recovery. If you are looking for a cost-effective way to launch yourself into a successful and independent sober living and drug-free lifestyle, an Oxford House can be very beneficial.
For the most part, Oxford Houses are operated autonomously. That said, there are some Oxford House chapters, made up of several loosely affiliated homes. To be considered a chapter, there must be at least three Oxford Houses within a 100-mile radius of each other. When an Oxford House chapter has been established, the chapter will hold meetings and the presidents of each house will also meet to discuss concerns or successes that they have found within their respective homes. In some instances, their meetings may also focus on trends they have observed within their geographical locations.
Getting into the House
How do you get into an Oxford House? If an Oxford House sounds like a living situation you would like to pursue, your first stop should be their website. Once there, you can look by state to find locations with active Oxford Houses. Once you find a house that looks like it might be a good fit, you would follow their specific application process and fill out a form to apply for membership.
When the application is completed, the members of the house will conduct an interview with you. The idea behind the interview process is to help current house members decide whether the potential candidate would be a good fit within the living environment — and, conversely, to give you an idea of whether this home will be a good fit for you. Once the interview has been conducted, the current Oxford House residents will take a vote on whether the new potential member should be allowed residency. When the vote is conducted, at least 80% of the members must vote in favor for the applicant to be admitted entry into the home and officially become an Oxford member or resident. Oxford homes must have no less than six residents and usually will not go above 15.
One important thing to remember about every Oxford House is that they all follow the general philosophy consisting of three different key principles. These points are:
• Self-help must be utilized in order to be successful in recovery
• A healthy democracy is the only way to live together
• Relapse is less likely when there is an ability to build efficacy through self-support
Oxford House residents are expected to rely on themselves to be successful in recovery and to create and maintain a comfortable living situation within the house they are living in. While the members are free to seek professional treatment in addition to their membership in an Oxford House, the house itself does not typically have an outside professional or manager running its affairs.
Paying the Bills
Treatment can be expensive, and unfortunately, there is no way around that. If you have insurance, you may have an easier time getting into treatment, and there are some facilities that may offer scholarships or other financial support, but not all individuals may have access to these resources. Traditional residential treatment facilities often cost more money because of their structure, and due to the costs associated with having a staff member at the house to monitor the behavior within the household.
Oxford House sober living operates in a different way. As a member, you are expected to be responsible enough to pay an equal share of the house’s bills. The bills typically include rent, cable, utilities, phone, and household supplies. Oxford House has even been kind enough to supply a viability calculator to see if you can afford to live in one of the houses. Typically a person will spend between $400 and $500 a month, but your specific cost may depend on your location.
This is a major benefit of being a resident at an Oxford House, as it would allow you the ability to learn how to save money and manage a budget, which is one thing that many people struggling with substance abuse might need help with.
Each house also has the autonomy to decide how its members want to run the home. This means that each Oxford House will have rules and regulations that its residents are expected to follow, and which may differ from house to house. if a member does not follow these rules, the most typical immediate consequence is imposing fines. Fines are used to help maintain order and peace within the house. Every house may have different rules around which actions will result in a fine, but typically all fines will need to be paid in addition to the weekly rent in order to maintain residency within the house.
Every Oxford House has elected officials who serve in certain roles. These roles can only be filled by the same person for six months at a time. A person may have the same role twice but it cannot be during consecutive terms. Individual Oxford homes are free to create more positions if their members feel it is warranted, but there must be at least these six selected roles:
• President — The president is responsible for many different duties including general leadership within the house, calling regular business meetings, controlling the interview process for potential new residents, attending to any house business needs, and representing the house at chapter meetings.
• Treasurer — The treasurer responsible for making sure the Oxford House is financially sound. This officer will write checks for approved expenditures, will have an understanding of the comptroller’s position, will make weekly bank deposits, maintain transactions within the house checkbook, complete a weekly financial status report, and work with the comptroller to conduct monthly audits.
• Secretary — The secretary’s duties include a lot of administrative needs such as managing the house email account, updating information on the national website, completion of house report, assisting new residents with getting acclimated to administrative paperwork required to be a resident, scheduling potential residents’ interview times, and organization of all house paperwork.
• Comptroller — The comptroller makes sure that all the residents are up to date on their financial balances and commitments. This officer also maintains all records of residents’ move-in and move-out information, provides receipts, completes weekly reports, assists the treasurer, is responsible for mailing bills once they have been approved by the treasurer, and works with the treasurer and president to create a monthly audit report.
• Coordinator — The coordinator helps keep the day-to-day flow of the house in check. They make sure the house is clean and in proper order. This officer conducts fire drills, is responsible for general upkeep and maintenance, and keeps the house properly stocked with essential household items.
• Housing Service Committee Representative — This officer is responsible for spreading the word of the Oxford House to the community. This may include distributing flyers, maintaining a healthy image within the community, and troubleshooting problems that may arise within the house.
While each house has the autonomy to be run in a way that best suits the needs of the residents within the community, there are nine basic traditions that all houses must follow. These principles are:
• The purpose of the Oxford House is to provide support for the alcoholics and drug addicts who wants to stop drinking or using and stay sober.
• Officers of the Oxford House are expected to run the house in a democratic fashion.
• No Oxford House member will ever be asked to leave without good reason, and for every such member, there will be a dismissal vote.
• Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are not affiliated with the Oxford House, but the Oxford House understands the value of these programs.
• Oxford Houses operate autonomously.
• Oxford Houses are financially self-supporting.
• Oxford Houses are not treatment facilities.
• One does not promote an Oxford House, rather uses it as an opportunity for public education.
• Members leaving Oxford House in good standing are encouraged to mentor newer members.
Who Is Accepted?
Because being successful in recovery can be difficult to begin with, the Oxford homes do not operate in a co-ed format. This is done to help minimize the potential distractions that can arise with men and women living together. Oxford Houses are separated into three different categories. There are Oxford homes for men, Oxford homes for women, and Oxford homes for women with children.
Due to the autonomous nature that Oxford Houses operate under, the rules of every house will vary whether they are homes for women or men. Each home will make its rules based on what seems most appropriate for the residents.
One thing worth mentioning in more detail is the Oxford homes for women with children. While rules may vary slightly between different homes, there are some specific rules when it comes to having children in a home.
• Children are to be respected just like any other house resident
• No children over the age of 16
• There will be an extra fee for children
• No more than two children per resident
• Significant others are not allowed to spend the night
Mental Health Concerns
There is a large population of people battling alcohol and drug abuse who also have mental health disorders. A person in this situation is considered to have a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. If you wonder whether people with co-occurring disorders are eligible to be considered for placement within an Oxford home, the answer to this question is yes, absolutely! Oxford Houses recognize that some of their residents may have co-occurring disorders. Learning how to manage these co-occurring disorders in a healthy way that will provide stability and goal-oriented success is a significant part of building self-efficacy for eventual independent living.
How to Stay in the House
Once you become a resident in an Oxford home, the length of stay can vary from person to person. Typically, the average stay for a resident is around a year. You are free to stay and an Oxford House for as long as you would like as long as you are following the house rules and paying your portion of the bills on time. In keeping with the third tradition of the Oxford House, no person can be removed without cause. Having said that, residents must adhere to three basic rules. If you cannot follow these rules, the house members may ask you to leave. The three rules are:
• Attempting to avoid relapse of substances or alcohol
• Being unable to pay rent or fines
• Displaying disruptive or violent behavior
Even if a resident is displaying any of the behaviors above, the Oxford House members still must vote in favor of the person being removed from the residence.
The Best Course of Action
Now that you know more about how the rules work within an Oxford House, you may ask which course of action is best for you or your loved one. Oxford Houses usually have residents who have completed either rehab or a detox program before they enter an Oxford House.
It must be said that going into this type of living arrangement that does not have a treatment component attached will require a large amount of self-discipline. This is something you may want to keep in mind when considering what your best option may be. Considering the potential for relapse when working in sobriety, if you are struggling with a substance abuse disorder or a co-occurring disorder, it is recommended that you should be first evaluated by a professional to see if treatment is warranted. It is important to remember that you may reside within an Oxford House and still receive clinical interventions if you and your treatment provider determine that it is the best option. Depending on your specific situation, a professional evaluator may also recommend a residential treatment facility instead.
When to Get Help
Support groups are here to help you get the support you need during this time. Find a group near you today.