Nov. 11, 2023 – The white vans were the first thing people noticed.

They began popping up around tribal reservations in the Southwest a few years ago, trolling through alleys and parking lots on a hunt for new business. They approached anyone who looked homeless or intoxicated with an alluring pitch: Get in, and we’ll give you shelter, sobriety and a better life.

Monica Antonio, 21, was one of thousands of people who leaped at the chance. She had been desperate to stop drinking for her three young children, her family said. But the San Carlos Apache Reservation in rural eastern Arizona, where she lived, had limited resources for drug or alcohol treatment. So last January, a van whisked her 130 miles to one of hundreds of sober-living houses that have proliferated around Phoenix in recent years, with little oversight or control.

She did well at first, earning a 30-day sobriety certificate, but friends and family said they started to worry when Ms. Antonio posted online photos showing drinking and drug use inside her sober-living home. They said she started to slip.


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