As damaging as a return to a toxic home environment can be to sustained recovery, choosing to live alone also could end up compromising a recovering person's well-being. “Addiction is sort of bred on isolation,” says clinical social worker Jesse Sandler.
Having seen patients from both neuropsychiatric hospital and intensive outpatient settings struggle to find recovery-affirming housing options in the community, Sandler worked to fill that void. He and business partner (and fiancee) Emily Chung co-founded MySoberRoommate.com, a free nationwide service that launched in early June. The site already has around 1,000 users with a common bond: All are seeking a stable living arrangement with another sober individual.
In the couple's research prior to establishing the service, Sandler says they came across only one similar site, which he says amounted to an online list of names with no privacy afforded. MySoberRoommate.com users employ screen names and share only the information they choose to, with all between-member communication traveling across one messaging system. Individuals do have ample space to create a detailed online profile if they want to do that.
“We wanted to make a safer space for people,” says Sandler, 32, who works at the Camden Center intensive outpatient program in the Westwood area of Los Angeles (a UCLA operation) and also has a small private practice.
The site includes a feature that flags any inappropriate posted photos, and also allows users to report any other improprieties. Problems have cropped up only a couple of times in the first two months, Sandler says.
Attracting diverse age groups
Sandler says most of the site's users are in either the 18-to-25 or 40-plus age groups. The most intensive activity so far has occurred in some of the expected locations where many people end up for addiction treatment or aftercare: Southern California, South Florida, large metropolitan areas of Texas.
The scariest part of the experience so far for Sandler involved launching the site in June and wondering who would want to take the first step to participate. Eleven people joined in the first week, and now an average of more than a dozen a day are arriving, he says.
“We tried to convey at the beginning that the only way it could grow was to have people on it,” says Sandler.
Potential business model
Sandler and Chung originally tried to build the site themselves, but when that wasn't working Sandler reached out to a buddy whose friend had developed a webiste to link musicians to music teachers. The founders are now building an app for their service, since most participants are accessing the site through their smartphones anyhow, Sandler says.
The creators are considering a business model that would involve selling advertising space, and perhaps also allowing upgraded profiles in which participants would be able to receive background or credit checks. The basic information for participants' profiles includes age, gender and duration of sobriety.