Township might force sober house to close

For some Dalton Township officials, the house at 3071 Second is a zoning problem -- a boardinghouse in a single-family residential district, struggling to meet the legal requirements to remain in business.

For Ken Brink, it's a whole lot more.

It started out as a safe refuge when he left prison -- a quiet, structured environment where he could nurture his newfound sobriety.

Sixteen months later, it's become his permanent home. And he's become the lighthouse keeper for other substance abusers seeking recovery under the same roof.

"It's a plus to be a role model and example for other residents, but I also learn from the people who come here right off the street," said Brink, 51, the live-in manager of Serenity Springs Sober House, Muskegon County's only boardinghouse for men who are recovering from addictions.

"They remind me of where I came from, remind me not to get too complacent. There's no cure for this disease. It's a one day at a time process," he said.

But Brink and his housemates could be dealt a blow Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Dalton Township Hall, when the Zoning Board of Appeals considers granting Serenity Shores variances for several issues, mostly involving parking.

If the variances are granted, the township board will grant the sober house a special use permit to remain in business. If it's not, the boardinghouse will be closed soon.

That would be a shame, according to Joel Kruszynski, the owner of the house.

While he said he would probably try to find another location for the sober house, that would take time. And the people who need what the house has to offer might be out of luck in the meantime.

"There are some people who are clean and sober today who wouldn't be without that place," Kruszynski said. "It has done some good."

Relating to a need

At first glance Kruszynski, doesn't seem like he would be champion for men like Brink.

He's the owner of several successful businesses and rental properties, and spends a good deal of time traveling, fishing and otherwise relaxing.

But Kruszynski also is a recovering alcoholic with more than two decades of sobriety, so he understands what it takes to get and stay clean.

"I remember one of the things I noticed were people trying to recover, but getting thrown back into the same environment and circumstances," said Kruszynski, 55, who grew up in Holton and lives in Whitehall. "They go back to the same spouse, same friends, doing all the things they used to do. It makes recovery difficult."

As the years went by, Kruszynski's time was swallowed up by family and business concerns. But his interest in helping recovering addicts remained, and his chance to act came about two years ago.

That's when a friend who was struggling to stay sober needed a roof. Kruszynski let him use an open apartment in the upper level of the rental house he owned just a few yards from Twin Lake County Park. Eventually, another recovering alcoholic needed shelter and moved in.

A few months later, in the summer of 2006, Serenity Shores was born.

It's not a treatment center. It's simply a quiet residence reserved for men who are trying to maintain their sobriety.

There are rules for residency. Applicants are screened to determine their interest in staying sober. Rent is $450 per month, but residents don't necessarily have to be employed, or pay rent, during the early part of their stay.

"Most of the people we see have burned up all their assists," Kruszynski said. "Their families and friends have usually tossed in the towel. A lot of times they have nothing left."

Until recently, the house, which has three apartments, averaged six to eight residents at a time, Kruszynski said. The average stay is about 60 days, although some stay longer, he said.

The majority of residents make it through their stay without reverting to alcohol or drug use, Kruszynski said. If they use, they have to leave.

Even with the rental income, the house costs Kruszynski approximately $10,000 to $15,000 a year to operate.

While he would like to see the house become self-supporting, Kruszynski said he doesn't mind the expense.

"It's important that I go out of my way to give something back, and I think this is an extremely important thing that needs to be done," Kruszynski said.

Mark Apman, program director for West Michigan Therapy Inc., agrees.

Apman said the Muskegon area lacks an in-patient substance abuse recovery program for men. That makes residential programs like Serenity Shores, with its sober environment and strict lifestyle, crucial for some recovering addicts, he said.

"I think it definitely fills a niche," Apman said. "I'm familiar with a couple of men who stayed there, and it definitely helped to support their recovery."

Rules of residency

Residents of the sober house are forced to live a very structured lifestyle.

Rules include: a 10 p.m. curfew; no sleeping late; spending at least 25 hours per week working or going to school; doing volunteer work or a combination of all three.

Daily Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings are mandatory. Rooms must be kept clean, household chores must be performed and overnight guests are limited to residents' children.

Most importantly, no drugs, alcohol or drug paraphernalia are allowed on the premises. Prescription drugs must be kept in locked drawers. Residents are encouraged to observe their neighbors and turn in violators.

The manager has the right to administer a drug or sobriety test at any time.
The daily rules of the sober house may sound rigid, but they provide the type of structured lifestyle the residents say they need to stay sober.

Brink is a good example.

He once was the owner of a successful used car lot, and lived with his wife and five children in a beautiful home on Bear Lake.

But then alcohol and drugs started playing bigger roles in his life. He lost his wife and business. He was convicted for possession of narcotics. He became desperate and moved to Arizona, in violation of his probation before moving back six years later.

The law caught up with him quickly and he was sentenced to prison. By that time, he had decided to get sober and started working the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program during his incarceration.

Afterward, he moved in to Serenity Shores.

"I was afraid when I got out that I would end up in a bad environment," Brink said. "I didn't want to take any chances."

source: The Muskegon Chronicle

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