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Recovery campus aims for spring groundbreaking

Dirt City Sanctuary co-founder Tyler Trowbridge was original success story for organization.

January 25, 2019
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Dirt City Sanctuary
Within the proposed campus are several residential buildings that all have studio apartments and a communal area. Rendering courtesy Spark 43 Architects

After almost a yearlong road to recovery from opioid addiction and helping others get back on their feet, Tyler Trowbridge and Dirt City Sanctuary are about to break ground on a new recovery and housing campus.

Dirt City Sanctuary was founded on the premise of promoting “recovery through community,” said Trowbridge, who is now a co-founder and COO of DCS. The premise is providing support for people by treating them on an individual basis.

“In the recovery world, there’s a set group of rules that people are supposed to follow, or there’s this absoluteness that all these places have, like, ‘You have to do it this way,’” Trowbridge said. “But if that doesn’t work for you, what are you going to do?”

Trowbridge himself is recovering from addiction, now almost a year clean, and was the original success story of DCS. After hearing about his addiction, DCS co-founder and CEO Stacy Peck said she was motivated to help him, just by being a source of support and motivation.

Peck started a GoFundMe page for Trowbridge before he even knew she wanted to help him, just to get him housed and placed within a job.

But Peck’s outreach soon evolved into her filling Trowbridge’s schedule, whether it be going to the movies or just having someone to talk to. Trowbridge said having a degree of accountability just by sharing his struggles with people also helped keep him out of trouble.

“Early in my recovery, I’d just text her, and I was like, ‘I feel like getting high. I got money in my pocket,’” he said. “It’s just like telling somebody what you could do just so you don’t do it.”

After Trowbridge had logged a few weeks of being clean, Peck began to wonder if their system could be replicated to help other people.

The drive to help other people get clean also ended up being beneficial for Trowbridge because he said it gave him a sense of purpose.

“I felt guilty for having someone do so much for me, and she didn’t want me to pay her back,” Trowbridge said. “So, we came up with this, so instead of paying her back, I could pass it on.”

Peck and Trowbridge said they also were motivated by the community to replicate the system. After having almost 30 news stories done about them, other people were able to record and follow along with the methods that led to their success.

“That’s kind of how we got the first guy we’re helping,” Trowbridge said. “They started contacting us, knowing people and wanting us to help those people.”

DCS also has increased its following through volunteer work at various charitable events. Peck said just being able to interact with people in need changes volunteers and incentivizes them to be more proactive.

“These people, if you let them, will change you,” Peck said. “I keep having this thought if one of my neighbors were homeless … everyone would rally around them, right? So where is the urgency with community members who are already in that situation?”

Besides just helping get people treated for drug addiction, DCS also helps individuals who struggle through homelessness or improper housing, unemployment, physical and mental health, lack of transportation, purchasing groceries and other issues that can arise from addiction.

“Our focus is substance use disorder but also homelessness,” Peck said. “When you have those two things combined, we want to get you housing as a foundation to your substance use disorder.”

To achieve this end, DCS intends to build a housing campus within Kent County and located about 20 minutes from Grand Rapids proper, so staff can reach methadone clinics if necessary.

The main campus will feature a farm home-style design and be used to house individuals who are actively seeking treatment for their addiction. DCS is working with Spark 43 Architects in Grand Rapids.

Trowbridge said having a place to call his own was critical to his recovery. The design of the campus gives people plenty of privacy but also allows for community engagement.

“I got a studio apartment, which is perfect for me,” he said. “I live alone, which is awesome. … A lot of times I don’t want to be alone.”

Within the campus are several residential buildings that all have studio apartments, so people can be by themselves, and a communal area. DCS also wants to be able to pull volunteers so the people housed on campus will always have somebody to engage with.

“If you got a Saturday off … you can come and bring four people out to the movies,” Trowbridge said. “If you get along well with one or two of them, you can come and ask for those people again.”

The campus also will have workshops so people can develop relevant skills for new job placement. Trowbridge said DCS has been talking with potential partners about providing training in technology or construction.

“We just want to be able to keep the people busy, occupied and help them find purpose,” Trowbridge said.

Part of the training includes developing a community for people in long-term recovery to build and own their own “tiny homes.” Besides being in a community that encourages the success of long-term recovery, the project also gives people the opportunity to build wealth by owning a home.

“In that capacity, Dirt City Sanctuary serves as a bank for these very low-cost homes — $15,000 I would say,” Peck said. “In a year or two, if they’re ready to move on, they can sell them back to us or rent them out to someone else who is also seeking long-term recovery.”

Peck added DCS understands relapse is part of recovery, and people will not be kicked out of the program. They instead will be placed in the “speed-bump” house, which offers bedroom suites and more intensive care to help people recover from their relapses.

“I’ve seen it so many times where somebody will be doing good for a while, and then you get a slip-up and get kicked out of the program,” Trowbridge said.  “It’s punishment, and that doesn’t help anyone.”

“Addiction doesn’t happen overnight,” Trowbridge added, “so how would anyone expect someone to get better overnight? Drug addiction for me was getting high for a birthday and then getting high once every couple of months and then it was getting high on the weekends.”

DCS is currently in talks with an undisclosed private foundation about helping to get the recovery campus rolling, but Peck said she hopes groundbreaking will begin in the spring of 2019.

DCS acquires all of its funding through a stream of donations and private investors, Peck said.

“We don’t want finances to exclude you from our community,” Peck said. “We are super fortunate because there is such a huge spotlight on the opioid epidemic right now that funding isn’t necessarily a huge barrier for us.”

“Everyone wants to help,” Trowbridge said. “You see panhandlers asking for money, and people don’t necessarily want to give money because they don’t know where it’s going … so if someone thinks they can help by sharing experiences or helping someone with job training or coming and having a conversation, people are way more likely to do something like that than to give money.”

The name “Dirt City Sanctuary” is an ode to the city of Grant, where Trowbridge and Peck lived and went to high school at the same time a local punk rock group started going by the name “Dirt City Rockers.”

“In my grade, me and my friends were in a band, too,” Trowbridge said. “All of us were heroin addicts … and I’m pretty much the only one that’s still around, and then we just wanted something that said comfort. ‘Dirt City Sanctuary,’ it would have been a sanctuary to people like me.”

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