Lackawanna County court Tuesday ordered six women to leave what is called a sober house, an unregulated boarding home where alcoholics and drug addicts recover and stay, often as an alternative to jail.
The eviction was triggered when the operator the Scranton sober house failed to pay November's and December's rent.
The young women paying the house's operator to stay there found themselves caught in the crossfire. One said she had to call the court Tuesday to stay out of jail.
Landlord Roy Gilgallon changed the locks on the Eynon Street boarding house, evicting six women.
"I went into a business proposition with compassion, trust and hope, and that's not the ingredients to be successful in business," Gilgallon said. He added he is going broke.
He feels for the evicted women, struggling with their history of drug and alcohol abuse.
The women said they felt cheated, stuck out in the cold while their belongings sit in the sober house.
"These girls are in recovery, and I try to help them out," said Gina Valente, who operates the sober house.
The women in her care are being evicted, according to the court order, because Valente has not paid Gilgallon rent since October.
"I try to help these girls out by giving them a place to live to get them out of jail, okay," Valente added.
Substance abuse treatment experts note sober houses are not regulated. Because of that, few neighbors even know of their existence.
If they were, experts said, neighbors would go all out to keep them from opening.
Anyone can open a sober house. Newswatch 16 asked Valente what qualified her. "To be in recovery you need to be a drug addict or an alcoholic in the first place. And guess what, I am. I'm in recovery myself," Valente explained. When asked if that makes her qualified to run a sober house, she responded, "Listen, I have nothing more to say to you."
Valente promised the women room at another sober house.
Gilgallon, who claims he is a certified substance abuse counselor, feels all sober house operators should be certified.
Lackawanna County drug court workers scrambled to find housing for the evicted women.
Late Tuesday afternoon, all of the evicted women had found other places to stay.
There are area treatment houses with trained, and licensed staffers but the one on Eynon Street was run by a woman who admits she is not licensed or certified in treating or counseling substance abusers.