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Sober living house in high demand

TC Retreat
The first meal shared at TC Retreat's new sober living house.

A new recovery house for men opened last month in Traverse City. The sober living house has room for six men in recovery. 

Tom Gilbert is the president of TC Retreat, the non-profit that oversees the house.

"People frequently need a safe place to practice what they’ve learned in treatment," Gilbert says. "That’s where TC Retreat comes in with the recovery home, asking folks to make a six month commitment to practice their new sober living skills."

How it works

Men applying to live in the house must have a job, be 30 days sober and on a committed path to recovery. They are expected to commit to living there for six months and can stay for up to a year. In addition, residents of the house are expected to attend four recovery meetings a week, have a desire to work the 12-step principles and make a service commitment. They also cannot have criminal histories, like a felony, sex offense or an arson conviction.

The men run the house and hold each other accountable for things like sobriety and rent payment. Failure leads to removal from the house. 

Gilbert says sober living residences allow people in recovery to establish new patterns in a new environment rather than sending recovering addicts back to their past environment.

Gilbert says this type of self-governed sober living house has been more successful than other types of houses, because recovering addicts are holding each other accountable. 

High demand

Demand for the house is already high.

They have ten applications pending for the three remaining beds and more on the way, and Gilbert is frequently fielding inquiries.

"People frequently need a safe place to practice what they've learned in treatment. [We're] asking folks to make a six month commitment to practice their new sober living skills." - Tom Gilbert

A recovering addict himself, Gilbert says his history puts him in a unique position to identify who among the applicants is truly committed to recovery. Any disingenuous tactics used by applicants are probably something Gilbert tried himself before he was in recovery he says, and those tactics are relatively easy to spot.

Gilbert is an attorney and former judge in Grand Traverse County. He says he was caught smoking a joint at a concert when he was a judge.

The county sent him to a treatment facility for alcoholism. Although he says he was resistant at the time, he now feels it was a life changing experience. Creating a community of recovery for other addicts has become his life's work.

Gilbert hopes TC Retreat can open a similar house for women in the future.

Worried neighbors go to the city

Neighbors of the recovery house are concerned it violates zoning ordinances.

"I believe that what we're doing there fits within the zoning ordinance." - Tom Gilbert

They say a house of six unrelated men does not fall under the single-family ordinance in the area. They are also concerned that it's a treatment facility, which would be outside the neighborhood ordinance rules as well.

The neighbors have brought their concerns to the city. City officials are currently reviewing whether the house is complying with the neighborhood ordinances.

Gilbert says he's not worried.

"I believe that what we’re doing there fits within the zoning ordinance," he says. "I also know from a legal standpoint that there are two federal statutes that would supersede local zoning rules."

He adds that the recovery house is not a treatment facility; it is a house and community where individuals in recovery live together, pay rent and offer each other support.

Gilbert says he expects the city to make a decision about zoning in the next week or so.

He says if the city decides in favor of the neighbors, TC Retreat will appeal that decision.

Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.