By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
A new college residence offers students 12-step living—for a price
Although Tribeca Twelve has only been open one year, Hazelden has its sights on replicating this model of recovery housing in other cities. But that will only happen if a critical mass of recovering students' families can afford to pay Tribeca Twelve's residency fees and if Hazelden—which has a 60-year track record of success with its residential programs—demonstrates the effectiveness of this new dorm model. Hazelden is already tracking residents who have left the facility, but Kistenmacher refused to share any early findings with the Voice. Craig Sloane, a leading city addiction therapist, calls the Hazelden model "the gold standard for abstinence-based treatment" and says it "works great for the right people"—those committed to, well, abstinence.
Kistenmacher points out that Hazelden purchased Tribeca Twelve's West Broadway building at a deeply discounted price in the wake of the housing-market bust and says that the interior was designed "on a shoestring budget" with the help of the vice president of the Hazelden corporation, a designer. The goal, she said, was "to create an environment that feels healing to people." And she points out that Tribeca Twelve is less expensive than other comparable New York City sober-living facilities. Aside from Tribeca Twelve, there are two other upscale sober-living facilities in the city, though neither is designed specifically for college students: Townhouse on Sixth in Park Slope and Loft 107 in Williamsburg each charge more than $10,000 per month for a single room.
"I think they really put a lot of thought into the design," Sloane says. "It wasn't just, 'Let's make a really cushy environment for rich kids to stay.'"
With mandatory "eye-opener" meetings where residents discuss their goals for the day, a wake-up time, 2 a.m. curfew, periodic drug testing, and random room checks, life at Tribeca Twelve is hardly cushy. Steck says he watched three roommates come and go during his first three months—two because they violated Tribeca Twelve's zero-tolerance policy for substance use. Even residents who aren't forced to leave often don't stay longer than a semester, with the cost of living there dictating a firm departure date. Although Kistenmacher says students can live there as long as four years, it seems unlikely that many will, given the cost. So far, only three students have stayed as long as 12 months.
When the Voice interviewed residents in December, four were planning to leave Tribeca Twelve after just a few months, including Steck, who says that his family "definitely cut back" in order to pay for his time at the community. His former roommate Evan Lorberbaum, who arrived at Tribeca Twelve last fall after leaving Tulane University, where he suffered bipolar episodes that he says were aggravated by alcohol and marijuana use, was preparing to depart as well. During his residence, Lorberbaum took classes as a non-matriculating student at the New School, started a T-shirt company, and applied to study art and business at NYU's Gallatin School, where he will enroll in January.
Kara Lerner, who came to Tribeca Twelve after one semester at Connecticut College that was followed by a period of intensive residential treatment, and her Tribeca Twelve roommate Erica Frawley signed a lease on an apartment in Williamsburg, where they hope to support each other in sober living. Lerner, who says her extended family paid for her stay at Tribeca Twelve, added that cost was driving her timetable for leaving. "But it's mostly just that I'm ready," she adds.
The cost of Tribeca Twelve might be the reason that, after a year of operation, the housing is not yet at half of its 30-resident capacity. In December, before the four students departed, there were just 11 residents. Ragouzeos, who describes the facility as "pretty pricey," says that she refers students to Tribeca Twelve, but with the caveat that NYU's student insurance won't help cover the bill.
Kistenmacher says that the reason for the low number of residents is not the cost of staying at Tribeca Twelve but the fact that "we're a new program. We're still getting the word out." To build relationships that will lead to referrals, Kistenmacher has reached out to the counseling centers at both Fordham and NYU, and even placed ads in The New Yorker.
For Steck, who has not yet solidified his plans for where he'll live next, the experience was worth it. Living amid the temptations of the city, but with the cushion of therapeutic support, has made him more confident, he says. During his first month living at Tribeca Twelve, Steck says, he used to linger before the displays of beer in the deli where he went to buy cream soda. "I used to stand there, crave, decide which one I want," he says. But as the weeks passed, he was more likely to "see the beer out of the corner of my eye and turn away."
"This place really helped me get on my feet," says Steck. In the meantime, he is chairing a new AA meeting for young people that will be held in the building—and that he can continue to attend—and is looking ahead to next fall, when he plans to be transferring from NYIT to a new college—or, as he put it, "taking my talents to a different school."