The opioid epidemic has been devastating to families and communities across America. For those struggling with addiction, getting clean can be a grueling process, even when they are able to get into a rehab facility.
Tyler Trowbridge knows that struggle well, which is why he helped design Dirt City Sanctuary. Trowbridge, along with his co-founders Stacy Peck and Wendy Botts, joined Stateside to talk about their efforts to build a new kind of community for recovering addicts.
Trowbridge was on a dangerous descent from addiction to homelessness and worse. He was hooked on heroin and living on the streets of Grand Rapids.
Trowbridge had been using for nearly 15 years.
This winter, there was a stretch of time when Trowbridge repeatedly woke up in the emergency room suffering from symptoms of an overdose. Businesses found him unconscious. Police officers would send him to a hospital, which then released him back out on the streets.
One evening, Stacy Peck was watching the local news in Grand Rapids when she saw Trowbridge, her old high school classmate. He was living alone on the streets in the middle of winter. Peck said she was heart broken.
She found a drop-in center Trowbridge had been utilizing and asked the director to call her the next time he showed up.
The director texted Trowbridge that some high school friends were looking for him and had started an online fundraiser, which had already received over $3,000 in donations.
“I felt like I was pretty shy in high school and not really outgoing,” Trowbridge said. “I was like, man, I didn’t even know these people knew who I was. Then to see them all coming together and donating their hard-earned money to help me was just amazing.”
Before Peck met up with Trowbridge, she messaged her friend Wendy Botts, who had lost her son to an overdose less than a year ago. Peck told Botts that raising the money for Trowbridge was the easy part. Building a network of support for him would be much more challenging.
“I didnt need to know Tyler to know that he mattered, and that he deserved knowing that people still cared about him,” Botts said.
The three went on to found Dirt City Sanctuary, a planned community-based residential recovery facility for people struggling with addiction.
Each person who stays there gets a studio apartment, which they can decorate and make their own. At the base of those apartment complexes are communal spaces.
When the group began working on the plan for Dirt City Sanctuary, Peck had to leave town for a week, but she arranged for volunteers to stay with Trowbridge during all hours of the day.
“Just having all those people was key to me, so that's what we want to do for people, is build a new community around them,” Trowbridge said.
The founders say Dirt City Sanctuary will also offer skill-building workshops to help residents land a job after they leave.
“Everyone kept saying to me, ‘Oh youre just an angel for doing this,’" Peck said. "And I try to explain to people, helping him has been one of the best, most fulfilling things I have ever done in my life, and I want to be able to give that to these people who come to us."
According to Botts, Dirt City Sanctuary wants to model itself on the so-called European model of recovery, treating the whole person and not just the addiction.
“The average stay for detox in the U.S. is three to five days,” Botts said. "We get the person clean enough, we clear the drugs out of their system, and then send them back out with no resources, no networking, nothing, and that just doesn’t make sense.”
At Dirt City Sanctuary, if residents happen to slip up or make a mistake, Botts said the organization will be there to support them, not start them over again.
After 15 years of addiction, Trowbridge has now been clean for several months.
Trowbridge said he knows that doesn't seem like a lot to some people.
"But you know, I’ve been doing drugs for 15 years, and I never had more than a day or two ever, unless I was in jail, or never. To me in my heart, I know I am done.”
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry.