Men recovering from addiction gain hope as well as housing
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Mark, “Hippie,” Jason and Lloyd rebuilt their lives because of the sobriety they cultivated living in one of the six homes of Unity House in Davenport. They are among more than 3,000 men who have benefited from participation in the non-profit organization that has served addicts and alcoholics for the past 13 years.
Now, the Iowa Governor’s Office has recognized Unity House as the 2017 Housing Iowa Awards Recipient for Special Needs Development for advancing affordable housing opportunities for Iowans. Unity House supports its residents in a variety of ways, keeping in mind its credo: “all of us working together to help make a difference in other people’s lives.”
The story of Unity House echoes a paragraph from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Respect Life Month letter for October 2017. “There are times we may doubt the value of our own lives.… But reflecting on the healed wounds of the Risen Christ, we can see that even our most difficult trials can be the place where God manifests his victory. He makes all things beautiful. He makes all things new. He is the God of redemption,” observes Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the letter’s author.
Dennis Haut, a recovering alcoholic/addict and member of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, found redemption in establishing and leading Unity House. It is his response to lessons learned in his youth about the corporal works of mercy. “We aren’t just here for ourselves. We’re here to help others. We are our brother’s keeper.”
More than 55 men live in Unity House homes, many of them easing back into the mainstream, slowly, said Dennis, a retiree who devotes many hours — all volunteer — to the nonprofit. Residents come from jails, prisons and other recovery programs.
One of Unity House’s success stories is Mark Palmer, who serves as Unity House’s Chief Operations Officer. Mark said he became addicted to pain killers and then switched to alcohol. “I ended up losing my job. I was teaching for the military. I had retired from the military and was an instructor.” After completing a detoxification program and follow-up program, he applied for a spot at Unity House. “Mark, in my opinion, was honest, open and sincere and ready to make a change in his life,” Dennis said. “And man, did I get it!” Mark quipped.
As he progressed, Mark worked as house manager for one of Unity House’s homes. He left to pursue a new life, returning occasionally to visit Unity House. When he returned to Davenport a couple of years ago, he accepted Dennis’ offer to be Unity House’s bookkeeper. That position evolved into his current position. “I love what Unity House does,” Mark said. “Dennis and I both believe it’s our ministry to do this.” They welcome men of any or no faith, willing to turn their lives around.
Mark has remained sober and attends Sunday meetings at Unity House homes to support residents also striving to maintain sobriety. “My presence there shows that there’s someone out there who cares,” he said. “I get to know them all. I have great friends here.”
Unity House’s flagship home is a large, older home that can accommodate 16 residents. Grants from various organizations, including the Diocese of Davenport, Scott County Regional Authority, In From the Cold and The Friendly Thrift Center have helped pay for vital projects such as insulation, new doors and windows and sidewalks.
The house manager here is a guy named “Hippie” Hoffmann, 56, who runs a tight ship. He arrived at Unity House on May 5, 2012. “I was in prison for meth. I got paroled to Country Oaks and found out about Unity House and got accepted.”
Over time, he began helping out more, “and not just with chores.” He attends meetings with the guys and makes himself available to talk with them. He drives one of the guys to and from work daily. “If it wasn’t for Unity House, I don’t know where I would be,” Hippie said. “Since I have been with Unity House I have found God, something truly missing from my life for a long, long time. Every day my faith gets stronger.”
Hippie said men in their 40s on up have the best success at Unity House. “They’re sick and tired of living the life they’re living.” He believes they help him as much as he helps them. “We all can relate to one another. Our stories are different but the same. We’ve all been through hell and back. …Everyone who is here right now wants to be here.”
Jason Larson, who lives in House 3, has been to hell and back. But working through sobriety, “he has done everything he can to mend his past and be a contributor to society,” Dennis said.
“I needed a safe place to stay with like-minded people trying to overcome addiction and work on sobriety,” Jason said. He arrived at Unity House in 2012, but left prematurely. He returned in 2015 and has been sober since May 21, 2015. He keeps track on his smart phone app “Sober Time.”
His dogged determination to rebuild his life resulted in accepting a job for less than half of what he’d previously earned and riding his bicycle to work year-round – a 10-mile round trip.
Now he’s got a better job and benefits and anticipates moving soon into his own rental house. He hopes to have his driver’s license back soon. “It feels great,” Jason said. He believes he’ll succeed “as long as I’m aware of where I came from.”
Lloyd Gregory, Unity House’s maintenance manager, has been at Unity House since 2010. He had a long, hard life of drinking and drugging,” he said. “Unity House gave me chance at life to build a solid foundation beneath me. And to change bad habits into a learning experience. You don’t need to drink and drug to enjoy life.” Doing maintenance at Unity House “keeps me grounded, gives me a purpose in life, the satisfaction of helping others.”
Unity House “continues to meet an unmet need in the Quad-Cities metro area,” said Kent Ferris, director of Social Action for the Diocese of Davenport. “They provide a transitional program with compassion and efficiency and in so doing can affirmatively answer the Matthew 25 questions, “Lord, when did we see you…?”
About Unity House
Unity House is a not-for-profit organization that provides transitional housing for men in recovery from substance and behavioral addictions.
Applicants: Men ages 18 years and older, looking to reside in a safe, semi-structured sober living environment may apply for residency.
Average stay: Three to six months. However, some residents have been with Unity House for a year or more. It depends on the individual.
Costs: Monthly fees are $365 plus a $150 deposit and a $5 weekly paper products fee. The deposit is refundable, based on meeting certain requirements.
Information: visit the website: www.unityhouseofdavenport.org