On the morning of his brother’s 29th birthday, Sean Garraty awoke to find two police officers knocking at his door.
The police arrested Garraty, then a sophomore social work major, for selling prescription pills to an undercover police officer in Glenolden, Pennsylvania. He had been using pills since high school and stopped using substances before he enrolled at Temple, but he eventually slipped back into addiction during his freshman year.
“This was my rock bottom,” Garraty said. “While I sat in jail, I knew that this was not my purpose in life.”
Garraty couldn’t complete the Spring 2014 semester because of his arrest. There was only one month of classes left before finals.
Many universities like Penn State, Rutgers and Drexel offer recovery housing for students like Garraty. Not all recovery residencies are the same, but most include regular 12-step meetings, live-in recovery support staff, regular drug testing and therapy or counseling services.
Temple does not offer a residence specifically for students in recovery, but many students believe the university should.
Garraty started using pills again after drinking with friends who lived on Main Campus. Despite the fact that his friends lived in a residence hall, they were still able to sneak in alcohol, and Garraty said it was very easy to get pills. He could walk down any random street off Main Campus and find someone selling drugs, he said.
Garraty transferred to Temple from Delaware County Community College in 2013. He had just left rehab at Mirmont Treatment Center in Media, Pennsylvania, where he recovered from an addiction to Percocet, Xanax and Adderall.
After he served four months in the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, he returned to Temple and graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s of social work. He then enrolled in the Advanced Standing Master’s of Social Work program, which he started in July.
“I was very open about my life history, but I still felt alone.” Garraty said. “I still struggled with my addictive behaviors until I started to educate myself more.”
Through the social work program, Garraty met Tyler Hurst, a fourth-year master’s of social work student who started an on-campus addiction support group called Unicovery in 2015. Garraty said he finally felt understood and supported after meeting Hurst and the rest of the group members, but Unicovery dissolved in 2016 due to scheduling conflicts.
Hurst started the program in hopes it would convince Temple administrators to implement a collegiate recovery program on campus, including a residence hall specifically for recovering students. To fund this program, Hurst applied for a $10,000 grant from the Stacie Mathewson Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on addiction recovery.
However, the grant required a university signature before the money was doled out. Hurst said he believes Temple’s administration did not want to support drug and alcohol recovery services because then “the public will believe that the school has a problem with drug and alcohol use.”
Kate Schaeffer was Unicovery’s faculty adviser at the time that Hurst secured the grant, but she now works for the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Schaeffer was also the program coordinator of alcohol and drugs, interpersonal violence and mental health at the Wellness Resource Center, until July 2015. She said a grant must be approved by several departments, and that approval can take up to six months.
“Unfortunately, it’s not something that a person who had my position could just sign for and have that be good to go,” she said. “I didn’t have budgetary oversight in my position.”
Although the Wellness Resource Center provides students on Main Campus with information about drugs and alcohol, peer-facilitated programs and the “Think About It” online program, the center is not making steps toward recovery housing.
“Discussing the need for recovery housing would be an issue much larger than the Wellness Resource Center,” said Samantha Tatulli, the healthy lifestyles program coordinator at the WRC and the administrator of the Healthy Lifestyles Living Learning Community, an LLC for students who want to live with healthy and active people. “This would need to be addressed with senior administrators and housing.”
“We are certainly open to meeting with students to discuss this possibility,” Laura Randolph, the associate director of residential life, wrote in an email. “But it would need to be a larger initiative beyond just providing a residential space. Many other successful campus programs partner with resources to provide that additional support.”
Most collegiate recovery housing is implemented when a university partners with a separate organization that specializes in addiction recovery. Drexel partnered with The Haven at College, a national collegiate recovery residence that opened a branch on Drexel’s campus in 2012. The organization helps provide on-campus addiction treatment services.
“When a college student decides to get sober, often one of their most urgent questions is where to live,” said Rosalie Genova, the director of Drexel’s Haven program. “We believe we’ve added greatly to addiction resources at Drexel, in that the university has one place to refer students who are considering sobriety.”
Kat, who is now a freshman neuroscience major at Temple, lived at the Haven when she was a Drexel student in recovery from heroin addiction in 2015. She asked to keep her last name out of this story because of the stigma surrounding addiction. Kat said the best part about living at the Haven was the sense of community it created.
“There was a lot of people living in a small space and sometimes it felt like we were on top of each other,” Kat said. “But that was also what I liked about living there, because I was never alone.”
Kat eventually started using heroin again in December of that year. After telling the staff at the Haven, they told her to seek treatment or she would not be allowed to live there anymore.
“They helped me a lot,” she said. “I don’t think I would’ve gone [to treatment] otherwise.”
After finishing rehab last year, Kat started school at Temple instead of returning to Drexel.
“Drexel was very high-paced, and I don’t think I was ready for that,” she said.
“If there is a presence of sober students living in residential recovery that are not afraid or ashamed to admit that they used drugs, it could inspire other students to get clean and start doing what they can to keep themselves healthy and safe,” Kat said.
Meghan Costa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Meg_costa19.