Sobriety Finds Another Home

Sobriety finds a second home in St. Paul.

Tim Murray manages his recovery from the disease of alcoholism one day at a time.

He takes a similar approach in creating sober homes for older men in the Twin Cities. He opened the first one in January of this year, and now has a second one open for men 40 and older who struggle with alcoholism.

It’s called St. Gabriel House and is located on Carroll Avenue in St. Paul, just blocks from St. Michael House. Both are part of what Murray calls Trinity Sober Homes.

His mentor and consultant in founding the homes is Father Martin Fleming, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who has done something similar with his Bethany Village housing units, which is where Murray spent a year right after he became sober in 2009.

“My guess is that we’ll probably do roughly one [sober home] every 18 months,” said Murray, who attends the Cathedral of St. Paul. “So that means sometime in maybe late 2014 we’ll look at doing another one.

“But, I’ve learned to slow down and do it on God’s time. . . . So, we’re going to be patient. Father’s been doing this for almost 40 years, and he’s encouraging us to take the long view. So, if we take the 40-year perspective, then I think we can wait to determine whether or not this is successful.”

Demand is high

So far, things are going well at both homes. Within a matter of weeks, St. Michael reached its maximum capacity of 12 men age 40 and older, and continues to remain full. Nearly 30 men have called St. Michael home over the last year, and nearby St. Gabriel, which opened last month, now houses six men in its 6,150 square feet of living space, with room for more.

“We expect to be full by Christmas,” said Murray, noting that St. Gabriel House can hold up to 11 men. “The demand is certainly high. There are 80-plus treatment centers in the Twin Cities that release roughly 1,000 people a month. Half of those people go home, half of those have no place to go. And, 30 to 40 percent of those people are Catholic. So, that leaves, if you do the math, 100 to 150 men a month that are looking for some place [to live].

“So, if you want to know where Ground Zero for homelessness is, for a man that’s 45 to 50 years old and a chronic alcoholic, it’s the day he steps out of treatment sober. He’s immediately homeless. And, there are very few options at that point. So, we want to be one of those places for men who want to recover.”

Murray opened St. Gabriel House Nov. 1 after doing a massive overhaul on the house. He raised $250,000, then did what he estimated to be $400,000 worth of renovations to the home — all during a time when the housing market continues to struggle from a free fall that happened in 2008.

“In less than 90 to 100 days, we were able to raise $250,000, which is very fast in this tough market,” Murray said. “The number of people who have come forward and supported us have literally come out of the woodwork. Normally, when you’re raising money through a private placement [a type of bond], you have to chase people down pretty hard. Here, all we did was tell the story, and God did the rest.

“So, it’s very affirming, and it’s wonderful to see the faces of the guys when they come in here for a visit. It’s wonderful to see the camaraderie that’s been built at the St. Michael House. And, we’re continuing Father’s legacy.”

Faith-based flavor

The men who come are offered an affordable rent of $715 a month, and are asked to either work or volunteer their time. They are not required to be Catholic, although there is an unmistakable Catholic flavor at each home. Mass is celebrated once a month, alternating between each home, by Father Rober Hart, pastor of St. Patrick in Inver Grove Heights.

“Our sober house is basically identical to all other sober houses in that you’re expected to live in community and you’re expected to be accountable,” Murray said. “The main difference here is that we believe strongly that without a relationship with God, you’ve got no chance of staying sober. You might be able to get sober, but we think you will not be able to live a life that is happy, joyous and free. You’ll not be able to live a life that is free of the obsession to drink without a relationship with God.

“So, unlike other sober houses, when you come here, you’re going to see pictures of Jesus, and you’re going to see saints, and there’s going to be a chapel with Gregorian chant music playing 24/7. You’re going to see sacristy candles that burn 24/7. These are just the reminders that we’re here for a purpose, and we really believe that our purpose is to be of maximum service to God and those around us.”

Source: The Catholic Spirit by Dave Hrbacek