University House offers sober living environment

by Liala Helal

University alumnus Richard Mark said he dreams of the day when the University will recognize the need for alcohol- and drug-free housing.

Aiming to make this dream a reality, he and two others recently opened University House to provide recovering alcoholics and drug addicts with a safe and supportive living environment.

“It’s a first-of-its-kind model,” Mark said.

He said recovering alcoholics and drug addicts need structure in their house to fully recover.

“We all know what it’s like to be put into a dorm with the peer pressure of alcohol and drugs,” he said.

Eric Reed, co-owner of the house, said sober houses are common for people in recovery. But “ours is different because it is geared toward college students,” he said.

He said he knows it’s tough for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts to be in college because of all the partying and temptation.

The house is located a few blocks from Dinkytown and is open to all men enrolled with at least nine credits at the University or any other college.

Mark and Reed are two of the house’s three owners and are both the active directors.

They said they hope to expand with more houses in the near future and also hope to open a house for women.

Colin Gasko, house manager, is currently living in the house.

“I was interested in doing something to help others,” he said.

Gasko, Mark and Reed are recovering alcoholics and are in a rehabilitation program.

Gasko said that when they review the housing applications, they look for “people in school who are really passionate about moving beyond their past and moving forward in their lives and who want to grow.”

He said he hopes the house will create a positive image in the neighborhood.

“When people hear ‘sober house,’ they don’t think of sober people. They automatically think of drunk people,” he said.

Mark said many schools deal with the problem of alcohol by looking at it as a binge-drinking problem.

“The ways that they attack that is adding police and putting people behind bars,” he said.

The police, although they are “doing exactly what they’re supposed to do,” are only dealing with the symptoms of a larger problem, Reed said.

“What we’re here for is to deal with the solution,” Reed said.

University police Lt. Chuck Miner said the house “certainly sounds like a good idea.”

He said police try to send the message through enforcement that “illegal activity related to alcohol will not be tolerated.”

According to a 2004 Boynton Health Service survey, 71.2 percent of University students drink alcohol and 39.6 percent participate in binge drinking.

The survey was of undergraduates ages 18 to 24.

Reed and Mark said they have a few concerns about the house.

Reed said there is a chance of relapse, especially while dealing with stress, and recovering alcoholics usually go through one relapse.

“But with all the tools in place, the odds of recovery are pretty good,” he said.

The house also has structured rules and guidelines designed to provide residents with everything they need to fully recover, Gasko said.

More than 80 percent of the neighborhood’s residents are students but there are some single-family homes.

Mark didn’t get any negative reactions when talking to the neighbors but some might have misconceptions about the house, he said.

“They need to understand that when they hear ‘group home’ that it’s not a halfway house,” he said.

He said other student houses in the neighborhood have parties and cause chaos, whereas University House will be a “house of guys who are sober.

“This house should be very welcomed into the neighborhood.” Mark said. “It’s a plus to any neighborhood.”

He said part of the recovery process involves helping others and, therefore, residents of the house intend to be open to neighbors and to help them by doing things such as mowing their lawns.

“We want a chance to show them that we can be the best neighbors they’ve ever had,” Mark said.

The house is currently taking applications and conducting interviews. For more information, about the house visit www.soberstudents.org, or call Mark at 612-670-3898 or Reed at 612-205-7333.