By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Afternoon sunshine streams onto the front porch of a large, older home where Ray Baldwin plays the guitar, singing a Kenny Rogers ballad, while three other men listen appreciatively. Like the other men relaxing on the porch, Baldwin is a recovering alcoholic and resident of Unity House of Davenport. Founded and led by Dennis Haut, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, Unity House provides support to chemically dependent men and women in a safe, semi-structured sober environment.
This house that Baldwin calls home is one of six in Davenport — five for men and one for women — where individuals released from treatment centers learn to maintain a sober lifestyle while building relationships with their house mates and others in the recovery community. Unity House also offers an opportunity for spiritual growth that Haut, himself a recovering alcoholic, believes will enable individuals to maintain a strong foundation for a way of life free of alcohol and drugs.
“In 2000, after years of abusing alcohol and drugs I had reached my physical, emotional and spiritual bottom,” Haut said. “I reached out for help, and the recovery community in the Quad Cities was there to support me. I did what was suggested of me: I went to 12-step meetings, got a sponsor and worked the steps. For the first time in my life, I began to have a real and meaningful relationship with God,” the Unity House general manager added.
Three years later, Haut volunteered to deploy as a Department of Defense civilian to Iraq, where he worked installing armor and air conditioning on Humvees to provide protection for soldiers. Being exposed to the Iraqi people and their living conditions heightened awareness of the blessings in his life. After returning home, he converted a house he had been rehabilitating into a home for recovering alcoholics and addicts needing time to make the transition to living on their own or returning to their families.
Unity House welcomed its first resident in December 2004; the organization takes its name from the three precepts of Alcoholics Anonymous — Unity, Recovery and Service. Demand for housing resulted in Haut acquiring additional houses to serve needs. At present, Unity House has a 50-bed capacity in six houses; 48 beds are filled. Residents pay monthly membership fees that cover about 75 percent of operating costs. Haut covers the rest.
“Fifty percent of the people come in with nothing. We take a leap of faith,” said Fred Jackson, a recovering alcoholic who manages House No. 3. “When I came to Unity House, I had nothing.”
Jackson joined Haut in a visit to Diocese of Davenport headquarters where they explained the mission of Unity House to Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities. Unity House is hoping to secure status as a nonprofit organization, but is short of funds necessary to file the paperwork, Haut said. Ferris applauds Haut’s success in helping to meet the needs of individuals striving to make the transition from treatment to self-sufficiency. But Ferris recognizes that securing nonprofit status is essential to the ministry’s viability, “so that the foundation Haut has laid will be solid for the future.” Ferris hopes to connect Haut with resources to secure nonprofit status.
Unity House residents also desire a solid foundation for the ministry that has given them a sense of hope. More than 1,500 individuals have used Unity House as a stepping stone to self-sufficiency, Haut says. Some have relapsed because of their addiction’s hold on them. Each Unity House has a resident manager and a format that residents follow to stick with their recovery programs and to keep the house clean. Random alcohol and drug tests are conducted weekly to protect the integrity of each house.
Mike Byron, who arrived in April, co-manages one of the larger houses. He had sagging self-esteem because of his addiction, physical ailments, a divorce and trauma from being robbed. The former contractor follows his recovery plan, reads the Bible daily and does maintenance work at the houses as his physical health permits. “I feel like I have self-worth again and I can be a productive member of society,” he said. “I’m able to give back to God.”
As Byron spoke, Haut was on the phone in another room responding to someone struggling with a problem. Haut spoke with firmness, but also compassion. “I work in the office with Dennis; I see how he talks with people. He gives them second, third and fourth chances,” Byron said.
“People with addiction problems do not cease to be human beings any more than the lepers and diseased that Jesus helped when he walked the earth,” Haut says. “As such, they should be treated with dignity and respect; they have a soul. They are God’s children, too, deserving of any help and mercy we can give them. We are our brother’s keeper.
“I have seen people get help and turn their life around reconciling their marriages, reuniting with estranged children and relatives, becoming productive members of society. I and many others are living proof of this, one day at a time. And for this I am grateful to God.”
Unity House maintains a website (www.unityhouseofdavenport.org) which includes the organization’s history, mission and testimonials from grateful members who have moved on.