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Self-help recovery homes protect residents from COVID infection, death

DePaul University researchers find Oxford House model mitigates risk

mask, hand sanitizer and small house
New DePaul University research finds residents of Oxford House recovery homes had lower rates of COVID-19. (

CHICAGO — Living in an Oxford House recovery home can protect at-risk populations from COVID-19, according to new research from DePaul University. Residents of the self-help homes experienced significantly lower rates of COVID-19 infection and mortality, compared to the general population, during earlier phases of the pandemic.

“Oxford House recovery homes might have some distinct advantages in helping reduce COVID-19 infections and death, as the house members have a sense of community and a desire to help fellow residents both stay abstinent and healthy,” said Leonard A. Jason, professor of psychology and lead author of the research. Jason is director of DePaul’s Center for Community Research and has been studying Oxford Houses for 30 years.

Oxford House recovery homes are completely self-governed and not staffed by mental health professionals, Jason explained. Residents must pay their fair share of household expenses, not take alcohol or drugs, and follow the house rules. This simple structure has allowed the community to expand rapidly, with more than 3,000 houses and 44,000 residents across the United States.

Researchers were able to examine COVID infection and mortality rates among more than 36,000 Oxford House residents across 24 states and the District of Columbia. They gathered data from March 2020 through January 2021, before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available. They found:

  • The infection rate within residents of Oxford Houses was 1.6%, compared to an average 7% infection rate at state levels. 
  • There were four deaths in Oxford Houses from COVID-19, a death rate 10 times lower than that of the wider population. 
  • No infections or deaths occurred in rural Oxford Houses, defined as being away from a metropolitan area that had a population of less than 2,500 people.

Jason said the findings are significant because people experiencing housing insecurity or substance abuse are often in transient or close living arrangements with others, which increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. The parallel health crisis of opioid addiction has also put this population at risk.

“The data is supportive that these recovery homes are protective settings against COVID-19,” Jason said. This is just the latest finding that Oxford Houses have benefits for residents compared to other treatment and housing options. Residents of Oxford Houses have better success maintaining sobriety over time than those not provided this housing, Jason found in previous research. Individuals’ levels of tolerance also increase as they live in Oxford Houses, he has found.

“When people live in recovery homes, they realize their sobriety is based not only on their own behavior, but also the behavior of those they're living with,” Jason said. “People living in Oxford Houses learn to be more careful and respectful. They are creating an environment that’s focused on safety.”

DePaul co-authors on the study are Ted J. Bobak, Emily Bryan, Sabrina Sirdich and Mohammed F. Islam. The full study in the Journal of Rural Mental Health is available at:

Leonard Jason

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