No room for recovery: Inside the push for handicapped-accessible sober homes

Josh Chilton’s dad knew his son had just two choices left in life--leave home or die--so out of desperation Josh came to Minnesota, his last hope to escape a life of self-destruction.

He was a star-football player in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with college prospects and even a possible professional career ahead of him.

On the day he was to play in the semi-finals of the state championship, his future and his life spun out of control on a rain-soaked highway.

"I remember waking up in the hospital and I couldn't feel my legs," Josh recalled.

His team still played that night in tribute to Josh. They won big.

The next week they were in the championship game, and Josh showed up on a stretcher to call the coin toss.

It was a Hollywood screenplay kind of moment--until the game started.

This time, his team lost big.

After that, Josh was anything but fine about his new reality.

"In a lot of ways I put on a mask and tried to act like everything was fine," Josh said.  "I would exaggerate how much progress I was making because I felt like I was letting everyone down by not being able to pull this off."

He had hoped to walk again. When that didn't happen, he made himself a role model, coaching youth football and going to South Africa on a mission to help the homeless.

On the outside, he was a hero to the people of Winston-Salem--on the inside, he was full of fear, anxiety, and a deep depression.

"He stayed as high and as motivated and as inspirational as possible until he hit the wall," Floyd said.


After seven back surgeries in 13 years, Josh now found himself hooked on pain killers. When doctors cut him off, he turned to the street, eventually discovering heroin.

The former star linebacker was no match for the drug's powerful punch.

"I told myself that I wasn't a real heroin addict because I didn't consistently use a needle," Josh said.

Bouts of sobriety followed outpatient treatments, but he stumbled again and again.

"We knew death was perhaps days or weeks away, and we had to move in,” Floyd said.  “We had to stop this."


Because of his disability, there were just a handful of treatment centers in the country that could take Josh.

Minnesota's Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation was one of them.

"I have plenty of room to maneuver," Josh said. "This is a really accessible shower for me."

Now in his third month of recovery, Josh is eager to stay in Minnesota to restart his life away from the painful memories back in North Carolina.

There's just one huge problem.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Josh said.

Minnesota may be known as the land of 10,000 treatment centers, but it's woefully inadequate in terms of handicapped accessible sober houses, places where people in recovery go to get support and transition back into society.

"I think it’s probably not just here, but all over," said Sandy Greenquist from Recovery Church.

Most sober homes in the Twin Cities are not set up to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

In fact, they don't have to comply with the American's with Disabilities Act at all because they're not open to the general public.

"Many of the sober homes are older homes," said Kim Anton, a recovery activist. "It’s not just building a ramp, it’s a full renovation."

None of the owners of the sober homes we contacted would go on camera to talk about the issue.

But many said they operate on a shoestring budget and can't afford the cost of making their places handicapped accessible.


"I'm going to fight for this cause because it gives me purpose, but also because it’s the right thing to do," Josh said.

Local activists have stepped in to help, raising money so he can stay at Hazelden's St. Paul campus until the end of July.

And they're collecting donations of both cash and materials to try and renovate a sober home that can take him.

"If Josh can be cured--or at least deal with his addiction, Josh will change the world," Josh’s father said.

The same charisma that made Josh a leader on the football field is now at play in America's opioid epidemic, this time carrying the ball on behalf of others with disabilities who are also battling addiction.

"It's my full intention to stay here and get the first ADA approved sober house built in St. Paul," Josh said. "That's my goal."

There’s another complication in Josh’s case. The few sober houses that are handicapped accessible would not take Josh because his addiction is being treated with medication--which is against their policies.

Josh has a GoFundMe page set up to help with the construction costs of a handicapped accessible sober house where you can read more about his story.