Sanctuaryhouse12's Blog

Addiction recovery for gay men, the process, the hurdles, and achievements

Sanctuary House will begin its fourth year, as of December 28th, serving the gay community in the areas of housing, case management services, and advocacy in legal matters, involving drug charges and in many aspects of recovery, including new clients from treatment centers around the world.

My name is Jared Cashner, CCR, a retired court stenographer for the criminal courts in our circuit,  The original idea of creating a safe place for men in recovery was made obvious as I continued to see repeats of defendants making the rounds within my courtrooms.  Often, after being placed in housing in halfway house situations, with little or no accountability, the conditions often created an atmosphere of hostility and at times, violence.  In most court systems, when placed on a “pretrial housing situation”, simply coming into contact with law enforcement, usually after an attack in the housing environment, the defendant would simply be violated and placed “back to ground zero” in the criminal justice system.  The continuous fear and intimidation would also lead to the defendant absconding, also bringing the defendant back to the jail system.  In other words, the deck is mostly and usually stacked against the gay defendant.

My answer to a continuous problem developed as I entered the final stages of my own career. But before I begin the story of the journey into Sanctuary House’s history, perhaps a bit about my partner, James, and I and how this need to create and build what has now become a safe haven for our guys.

I was born one of MANY children from the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  As a young gay man, living in a place that could have devastating results, had my “secret” been revealed, as high school graduation commenced, I knew it was time to move on.  I found myself, ultimately, in the Great State of Georgia, 19 years old and on my own for the first time.  Within months of my arrival, I met a handsome man, named Sam, who would later turn out to be a 17 year love affair, before loosing him suddenly.  During those years, my interest in addiction and its effects on people was born as a Department of Human Resource professional, Miss Mary, placed my newborn foster son, Marc, in my arms.  As my son lay screaming and tormented by the pains of withdraw, it placed a feeling of need-for-change within me, to one day leave the sideline of this epidemic in order to work, first hand, in its field.  During those years, we went on to foster 13 additional children, those the State deemed “undesirable”.  I loved them all.  Within the first year, my son was officially mine and all the responsibilities that come with a couple adopting a “special needs child”.  I preferred to call him my miracle.

My partner, James and I met in the Fall of 2008.  He, like myself, had been touched close to home by the tragedy that is drug addiction.  As a young boy, the baby of two, he witnessed the despair of grieving parents informed that their older son, Buddy, was dead at the age of 15, as a result of drugs; and leaving James the only child of two people who I now call mom and dad, my in-laws.   In the beginning of this journey was a new and loving relationship, coupled with a desire, from day one, to start what would become a passion of learning, insight, and an ever-growing need to be hands-on.

So, now, the journey begins.

Sanctuary House began modestly enough with the lease option and eventual purchase of three run-down buildings on an acre, located in Wilton Manors, Florida.  When first opening, I had no idea what I was in for, nor had a clue of the increased work load dealing with gay men in recovery as opposed to any other segment of our community.  But then again, that was to be the model and for James and I, simply a “learn-as-you-go” process.

Upon opening, days after Christmas 2008, our humble beginnings were that of 6 beds, collection of mismatched furniture and an uncertainty of the endeavor.  Even though the property contained a total of seven apartments, the buildings had fallen into such disrepair, by a lack of care, that most had no windows, toilets, kitchens or the necessities of living. What the lack of care had not done, Hurricane Wilma had completed the picture, leaving a property that soon became infested with drug dealers, ladies of the evening,and squatters looking for shelter from the outdoors.

As we cannibalized  the apartments, going room to room, collecting items to put together two of the units quickly exhausted most materials needed to complete the next.  For the first time since childhood, working in garden with my mother, I found myself not in a suit and tie, as had been the case through most of my career and back into old jeans, laying water lines, pouring concrete, and shuffling through second-hand warehouses looking for bathroom sinks.

In the beginning, both James and I worked a second job, each, to pay the bills for our new home and have enough to begin the tumultuous task of taking on another unit, as the demand for our housing continued to increase, faster than the demand for our help.  Slowly, our bed capacity began to grow, as well as the work load.  Before long six beds turned into 40, with a never ending need for more.

From the onset, it was decided that if our facility was to make a real difference in the lives of those we serve, then certain obstacles had to be removed, such as emergency food, clothing, and transportation.  With those difficulties removed, the job of recovery could begin.

However, the biggest obstacle was not from our surroundings, but rather from within.  During the first year, what we would come to call “professional halfway house hoppers” began to call, requesting assistance.  Since we are the only one of our kind in the State of Florida, many seemed to gravitate to our program.

As we quickly discovered, those “hoppers” had made a career of moving from house to house, looking for individuals to victimize by taking from the weak and then, when confronted, would move on, showing up at local meeting houses claiming terrible housing conditions, bed bugs that did not exist, or that the staff of volunteers working to assist them were doing unspeakable things, including using drugs, simply for being expelled for attempting to pass drugs within the facility that still laid incomplete.  As a result of this deception, on the hopper’s part, some potential clients were weary of entering the Sanctuary, due to negative comments that simply were not true and the end result would be marginal client capacity, making that second job more important than ever.  Oddly enough, those same people, having exhausted all other options, would return very apologetic  and requesting re-admittance; and for us, being the new “kid” on the block during that first year, we would attempt, repeatedly, to break through the ice of these clients, after returning, usually without success. But with all the disadvantages, James and I were committed to assist the one’s that really needed the structure and guidance to leave behind a world of despair to break through the problems and move towards a life free of such a burden and rejoin the “land of the living”.

Since this blog is part and parcel to an upcoming book, aptly named “Halfway There”, please follow upcoming additions to our blog and I will continue to tell this story.  Some chapters will focus on problem solving and some of the more colorful characters that have passed over our threshold.

Jared Cashner, CCR

Executive Director

Sanctuary House of S. Florida, Inc.

a non-profit housing organization for gay men in recovery.


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